Taking on America’s Education
Now that students are getting back to school, it may be a good time to reflect on the educational system in our country. With on going globalization, there has been more and more discussion on how the educational system in the United States stands in comparison to rest of the world. In the past US has stood head and shoulder above other countries in providing education at all levels. Unfortunately, this has changed over the last few decades. For example, in 1999, out of 21 industrialized countries, U.S. 12th graders were ranked 19th in math, 16th in science, and last in advanced physics. Meanwhile, China only had a literacy rate of 20% before 1949 when presently 91% of the country has instituted compulsory primary education. The illiteracy rate of young and middle age has declined to less than seven percent there. And only last year, 69% percent of eighth graders scored below proficient in reading. As the educational process in general is complex, the evaluation of its effects on the society is challenging to measure, it is not easy to define the exact cause of this deterioration.
A recent article in Time magazine reports that over the last three decades, there has been a 123% increase in spending on education per student in our country (Corrected to inflation this amounts to an increase of 212%) Yet, there has been a 0% change in educational performance amongst students! Even in the recent days, $53.6 billion of the $862 billion federal stimulus package has been allocated and given to the states to improve education in the country. The national education budget for private and public is $972 billion dollars per the US Department of education. A 2004 report from the Organization for economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that US spends $11,000 per student per year and is tied for the first place with Sweden. So it would be reasonable to eliminate lack of resources as the cause of drop in the educational performance.
In 2008 the graduation rate from high school was 77% and well below most developed nations. This is in spite of the fact college graduates unemployment rate is 4.9% and their average income is more than $51,000 in comparison to 11% and $28,000 respectively for high school drop outs. This is somewhat surprising considering more than 85% in the US are provided free education in public high schools. Clearly difficulty in commuting or lack of neighborhood public schools cannot account for poor graduation rate.
There is a valid concern that college education in the US is expensive. The mean total cost including tuition, books and board for four years was $42,780 as of 2002. Although this clearly is not cheap, most students whose parents make less than $60,000 per year are provided aid by various agencies. However college tuition has increased three times as median family income between 1982 and 2007. I believe that this is an area where there may need to better ways to ensure that the US students do not fall out from pursuing higher education due to economic constrains.
US can still take pride for being a sought after country for higher education. More than 670,000 international students attended US institutions in 2008-09. Our students should also be given opportunities to visit and learn at the teaching institutions in other countries. This would better prepare us to deal with social, cultural and economic differences across the globe.
It is believed that 55% percent college educated female workers in early thirties were employed as teachers in 1940s. The book ‘Superfreakonomics’ provided me an interesting observation; In 1960 40% of the female teachers scored in top quintile of IQ with only 8% in the bottom. Twenty years later fewer than half as many were in the top quintile with more than twice as many in the bottom. Although there definitely are great teachers, the overall teachers’ skills declined between 1967 and 1980 with test scores dropping 1.25 grade level equivalents. Pay and Prestige could very well be the cause of this situation and I think it would be necessary for the policy makers and society to bring about a positive change in this regard.
Fifty six percent of Americans think tenured, long-time teachers are not motivated to work hard and 71% percent encourage merit pay for teachers based on their students’ performance. As far as parents go, 52% of Americans believe they can be more involved in their children’s performance at school. On the other hand, if students don’t do their job, parents and teachers will have a hard time doing theirs. If students can be more motivated to learn, the workload balances out among the students, parents, and teachers. Gradually, if each plays their part, the current state of America’s education could possibly be fixed.
One of the other areas that may need to be optimized is unemployment amongst US graduates. There has been a trend to employ from overseas for professional jobs especially in information technology and software industry. These graduates appear to come from institutions across the world that may not necessarily have adequate standards and accreditation. It is difficult to say that the 65,000 professional workers recruited from overseas each year are here merely because of better education. Regulatory measures need to be exercised to ensure that these jobs are provided to the appropriately skilled person rather than someone who is willing to take a lower pay.
I would have to conclude by saying that we at Harriton undoubtedly have a perfect trio of students, parents and teachers. We therefore should not settle for mere graduation from high school or participation in extra curricular activities, but aim to excel in everything and anything we do – be it college placements, athletic achievements, theatrical performances or community services. Maybe doing our best could potentially take us one step closer to resolving the current problems in our nations educational system!