Suzanne Fields

The news from the schoolhouse is running from bad to worse. First the bad news: American high school students trail teenagers from 14 European and Asian countries in reading, math and science. We're even trailing France.

It gets worse: The collapse of standards has plunged many of our public schools further into depths of "know-nothingness." And it's not a matter of money.

On average, the high school student in the United States ranks 14th, behind Britain, France, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and Japan, among other nations, according to "Education at a Glance 2003," a report compiled for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Before your eyes glaze over, you should follow your money.

"Countries that spend more are countries that tend to do better," says Barry McGraw, education director for the 30-nation OECD. But that's not true in the United States. We spend $20,358 for each student in public schools and college, up to three times more than other countries.

In a separate study, the Manhattan Institute, drawing on U.S. Department of Education statistics, finds that of the 70 percent of all students who graduate from American public high schools, only 32 percent qualify for college. Of the 51 percent of blacks who graduate, only 20 percent qualify for college; of the 51 percent of Hispanics who graduate, a mere 16 percent qualify for college. Asians score highest by both measurements.

"The main reasons these groups are underrepresented in college admissions is not insufficient student loans or inadequate affirmative action," researchers found, "but the failure of public high schools to prepare these students for college."

There are, of course, many reasons why so many students can't qualify for college. Most of them never get the cultural support to overcome the general debasement of public education. Nobody knows this better than the teachers, which is why so many public-school teachers send their kids to private schools.

The deterioration of public school education is most prominently observed in social studies, where, as education scholar Chester E. Finn, Jr. observes, "the lunatics have taken over the asylum."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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