Oliver North

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Broadman & Holman, the publisher of my latest novel, "The Jericho Sanction," sent me out on the road this week to promote the book. It occurred to me as I was skimming news stories about America’s youngsters returning to school that if high school students were our "target audience," a sufficient number of them would not be able to read the words on the pages. Nor would their teachers.

A great disservice is being done to the young people of this country when it comes to preparing them intellectually for the challenges that lie ahead. When I was a student in New York’s public high schools, Shakespeare, Chaucer, "The Iliad" and "Paradise Lost" were required reading. We were forced to learn algebra, trigonometry and geometry even against our protests. To ensure that we understood the material, teachers used a novel concept -- they tested us on the course requirements.

When today’s high school students are tested, they don’t seem to perform very well. In June, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the "Nation's Report Card" showing that one in four 12th grade students are unable to read at a basic level. Only 36 percent of fourth grade students are able to master basic reading requirements.

In Maryland, half of the students who took "end-of-course examinations" failed them. The exams test students in government, algebra, English and biology. The State Board of Education decided to ignore the results and delay any further action on the matter for another year.

It was that kind of bureaucratic bungling that forced Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to make education reform a centerpiece of his administration. Long an opponent of "social promotion" from one grade to the next, Bush originally persuaded Florida legislators to forbid promotion to the fourth grade of the 30 percent of Florida third-graders who fail the basic literacy test. But the law contained a loophole that permitted promotion in cases where there was a "good cause." So while 30 percent of third-graders failed the exam, only 3 percent were actually retained.

Recognizing that teachers and administrators were abusing the "good cause" loophole, Bush succeeded this May in revising Florida’s education code so that retention is now mandatory for third-graders who can’t read.

Commenting on the NAEP test results, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said, "There is no scientific answer to why our high school seniors have performed so poorly on this reading assessment."

Here are a few reasons students are not performing well. For starters, too many public school teachers are not proficient in the subjects they teach.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.