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Why Stephen Colbert's Inaccurate Assessment of Education is no Laughing Matter

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
I like Stephen Colbert. His brand of humor is very funny, and he reminds us how important it is to sometimes laugh at our politicians.

But unfortunately, many Americans get their news from satire television and accept comedy as fact. Last week, Colbert had
a segment that focused on the dismal academic results of the government education system.

His solution – albeit humorous – was to increase the number of kids who use various medications to cope with their challenges. He went on to say, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that drugs are cheaper than increasing funding for government schools.

He was obviously trying to make a point.

“The problem is our public schools lack the resources to help children succeed,” Colbert said, suddenly turning serious. “Nation, if we want to help poor students excel, we need to invest in more teachers, better resources and newer facilities. In other words, they’re screwed.”

In Colbert’s hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, the schools have a 14.57 student-to-teacher ratio, which is considered ideal. The district received $12,728 in state aid per student in the 2008-09 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The district was spending a very respectable $16,212 per student at the same time.

That isn’t enough to adequately educate a child? Perhaps not, because in 2011 the district had an embarrassing
72.2 percent graduation rate.

The Newark, New Jersey school district – which is closer to Colbert’s current home in New York – has a 16.52 student-to-teacher ratio and spends a staggering $28,406 per student, according to the NCES. School officials claim they graduate 55 percent of students. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie claims 23 percent of students receive a diploma. Either number is unacceptable, particularly considering the amount of money being spent.

Colbert’s assumptions and assertions may make for knee-slapping punch lines, but they ignore facts and reality. Simply throwing more money at the education problem or hiring more warm bodies to manage classrooms isn’t going to do anything to increase student success.

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