America’s public school system has largely become a disaster.
Last week, a listener of my radio show told me how her son had recently graduated high school and gone to college. He quickly discovered he could not keep up with the coursework because he could only read at a 6th grade level.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, it is typical.
State and federal funding for schools is determined by how many kids pass, graduate, as well as score on standardized tests. Administrators are pressured to pass poor students to ensure funding. Teachers are pressured to go along and teach to the tests. Kids know they will be promoted to the next grade, so many choose the path of least resistance.
You are left with a multitude of young adults that are not prepared for higher education or the work force because they were never held accountable.
There is plenty of blame to go around. We can start by looking at the failures of two groups at the top and bottom of the education debate: politicians and families.
Politicians are always talking about their commitment to ensuring our children’s future. Many truly do want to help reform education. However, they also know that if they kowtow to the latest educational fad they can get enough concerned parents to vote for them.
Election cycles create a notoriously short-term view in officials. As such, most education reforms start with good intentions but are not viable long-term solutions.
We end up with policies that focus on passing tests rather than understanding material and curriculums built around self-esteem and anti-bullying instead of math or science.
Funding was tied to student achievement to encourage administrators and teachers to make the institutions more accountable and successful. The unintended consequence was that schools began lowering standards in order to meet government benchmarks.
The children’s best interests became secondary.
This created a cascading effect throughout the public system. Teachers were forced to lower their grading standards to meet graduation guidelines, resulting in many high school freshmen reading at a 5th grade or lower level.
Teachers scrapped original lesson plans in order to teach skills that should already be known. Since teachers were forced to spend more time with lagging students and slow down the class schedule, the other kids become restless and undisciplined.
Additionally, fad imperatives are shoehorned into the lesson -- such as anti-bullying programs and self-esteem building. For every minute spent on feel-good lessons and disciplining unruly students, another minute of knowledge-based teaching is lost.