by Kenneth Rudich (another installment for the “Promote a Social Good” campaign)
Few people are likely to express real surprise over hearing yet again about a broken U.S. education system. The backslide that brought it here has been a festering wound for quite some time.
waiting for “superman”
Nonetheless, it’s always good to keep this issue squarely in the public eye, held high aloft where no one can ignore it. That’s the only possible hope for ever having it restored back to its formerly respectable self.
Davis Guggenheim, Director of “An Inconvenient Truth,” has joined the mix of people attempting to keep this problem in the spotlight. In his new documentary titled “Waiting for Superman,” viewers are exposed to another sobering dose of what has become an extraordinarily beleaguered education system.
According to the film, the U.S. is ranked 25th in math and 21st in science among 30 developed countries. As recently as twenty years ago, the U.S. was ranked among the highest in both categories.
Oddly, U.S. students are first in confidence despite their poor rankings elsewhere.
One partial explanation for this may rest with a discovery made by Stanford sociologist Sanford Dorenbush. He found a distinct difference between the behavior patterns of American parents and their Asian counterparts as it pertains to instilling a sense of commitment for attaining the best possible education.
Dr. Dorenbush says, “While most American parents are willing to accept a child’s weak areas and emphasize the strengths, for Asians, the attitude is that if you’re not doing well, to get up and study earlier in the morning. They believe anyone can do well in school with the right effort.”
Low expectations, little discipline, and high under-achievement are perfect if you want to be timid about success. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that Korea ranks second in Math and Japan is sixth.
Another disturbing trend revolves around the negative attitude certain groups and communities foster about education. In those communities, children who want to learn and do well in school are shunned by their peers. In the strangest of twists, they are treated like misfits by misfits. Now that’s just plain warped.
The House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor reports that 7,000 students drop out every day and only about 70% of students graduate with a regular high school diploma. Another study suggests that, in the 50 largest cities, the on time graduation rate drops to 53%.
foundational cracks always eventually show up
Even when students make it past high school, issues often arise at the college or university level. In a 2005 Associated Press story, education writer Justin Pope reported, “Just 54 percent of students entering four-year colleges in 1997 had a degree six years later — and even fewer Hispanics and blacks did, according to some of the latest government figures.”
While the disparity between enrollment and graduation can be attributed to many factors, perhaps the most unsettling of them lies in the argument that the “gap results at least in part from the fact that large numbers of high school students have less-than-adequate college preparation.”
The Institute for Higher Education Policy asserts, “Many studies have documented a substantial gap between the academic performance of students from low-income families and minority students and the performance of other students. Inadequate academic preparation is one of the significant barriers to access in higher education.” That means the fastest growing population of students — 40% of high school graduates will be minority by 2012, according to one report — is also having the biggest performance problems.
In an earlier post to this blog, “U.S. Labor Force Shortfall of Educated Workers by 2020,” Robert Craves, President and CEO of the National Education Foundation, summed it up this way: “We’re doing a great job of educating the affluent kids…We’re doing a poor job of educating the poor kids.”
A recent report by the McKinsey Corporation showed that if minority student performance had reached white students by 1998, the GDP in 2009 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher – or approximately 2 to 4 percent of GDP. The report also says the achievement gaps in this country are the same as having “a permanent national recession.”
Think of a house infected with termites, how the structural foundation is slowly eaten away until the day finally arrives when it collapses. The U.S. education system, the future quality of the U.S. workforce, the hope for economic prosperity ahead, is a house infected with termites.
Unfortunately, it is far easier to document the problem than it is to fix it. It is said the title of Guggenheim’s film, “Waiting for Superman,” is a reference to the childhood dream of being rescued.
Right about now, I think too many of us are waiting for Superman. And that may in fact be the problem in a nutshell. It’s time to stop waiting and start doing. And I mean all of us! We need to show an outrage over just how unacceptable this situation has become.
As Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”