Should schoolchildren in Detroit be thankful for their educational opportunities? The National Institute for Literacy estimates that 47 percent of Detroit adults (more than 200,000 individuals) are functionally illiterate. That means difficulty in performing everyday tasks such as locating an intersection on a street map, reading and comprehending a short newspaper article, or calculating total costs on an order form.
According to "Addressing Detroit's Basic Skills Crisis," a paper produced by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, half of the 200,000 functionally illiterate adults have a high-school diploma or GED. That means they have been lied to, passed from grade to grade or test to test without gaining basic skills. Yes, not one child was left behind—tens of thousands were. And what about those who do well enough to go to college? Tests of basic reading and math are helpful in elementary school, but Michigan State University professor Jerry Weinberger recently complained in City Journal that an emphasis on test-taking among older students has crowded out the study of history, science, literature, and anything that requires creativity. Weinberger said his students link education not to learning how to think but learning how to pass standardized tests.
Throughout its history WORLD has favored educational innovations such as tax credits and vouchers. Particularly and unabashedly, we'd like more children to learn what prayer is, but in general we favor opportunity and diversity over one-size-fits-all approaches. Bill Gates, now the largest private grantmaker in education, recently praised in the Wall Street Journal the "very positive characteristics" of vouchers, but said "the negativity about them" among some groups has kept his foundation from supporting them.
Too bad. The status quo is broken, the NCLB fix hasn't worked, and the alternative proposal we're hearing is: Shovel more dollars into the jaws of failure.