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It Isn’t Just The Inner City Kids Doing Poorly At School

It Isn’t Just The Inner City Kids Doing Poorly At School
Arthur Levine claims in the WSJ that the U.S. economy could be $1 trillion a year stronger if American students performed at Canada’s level in math:

Parents nationwide are familiar with the wide academic achievement gaps separating American students of different races, family incomes and ZIP Codes. But a second crucial achievement gap receives far less attention. It is the disparity between children in America’s top suburban schools and their peers in the highest-performing school systems elsewhere in the world.

Of the 70 countries tested by the widely used Program for International Student Assessment, the United States falls in the middle of the pack. This is the case even for relatively well-off American students: Of American 15-year-olds with at least one college-educated parent, only 42% are proficient in math, according to a Harvard University study of the PISA results. That is compared with 75% proficiency for all 15-year-olds in Shanghai and 50% for those in Canada.

Compared with big urban centers, America’s affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world–in Finland and Singapore–very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Is our empire over?

What’s the cause for the decline?

Paul Tough, whom I had on my radio show, says that character counts a great deal in why children succeed — self-discipline, for example.

Here’s what Peter Yurowitz, who says he was a teacher for 46 years (” Mathematics to Junior and Senior High School students in both poor urban and wealthy suburban schools”) has to say in a comment on the WSJ’s site:

America’s standing in the world will continue to fall unless we accept and debate the real reason for this decline. America can throw a trillion dollars at this problem and I can assure you that every penny will have been wasted. The problem is not related to the quality of our schools, the ability of our teachers or the organizations that protect teacher’s rights, aka unions. It is totally an issue of political correctness that refuses to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of those most to blame for the continuing decline – our society.

Our kids don’t read newspapers, they watch reality TV. Our kids don’t spend after school hours doing homework and studying – they prowl the malls or “hang out” with their buddies. Our parents don’t spend evenings overseeing their children – they’re too drained having worked countless hours just to make ends meet. Our parents don’t take responsibility for monitoring their children’s activities and making certain that the education received at school is reinforced at home – they’re busy blaming the teachers and schools for their kids failings.

In my final year of teaching, I was accused by one set of parents for not allowing their son to take a makeup exam, and then enduring an attack on my inefficiency and my “refusal” to give their son extra help, as needed. The parent seemed to ignore the fact that extra help to all of me students was offered both before and after school – their son never showed up. The make-up exam was scheduled for a pre-school hour – and their son never showed up. Where was their son? He was part of an extra curricular activity, which while lauded by both the school and parents, was not academic in nature. The parents, and through them, their son set their own priorities, yet they blamed me for the fact that they chose to prioritize elsewhere. By the way, their son was rescheduled to take the exam during class time, thus missing out on a new lesson, but again, that was their choice.

Over the many years, many, many colleagues had similar experiences. It should be noted that the number of these experiences has only increased over the years.

Here’s the bottom line – our society does not value education. Period. Singapore does. That’s why their children succeed while our continue to fail. If was pay oodles for students to pursue athletics and pittances to pursue academics, the results are self evident. If we continue to expect our governments to solve all of our problems and abrogate all responsibility for our children’s education, the results are self evident. If we abrogate our responsibilities as parents and let our children’s values be dictated by what they see on TV, then our slide downwards will soon become a plummet. That’s the cliff we should be worrying about.

Douglas Oglesby follows up the teacher’s comment with his own:

You appear to be a responsible teacher who cares about students and their performance. I admire and respect you. My parents were both public school teachers who, like you, tried their best to teach under difficult conditions.

Having said that, I must confess that I consider teachers’ unions to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, obstacle to student performance. California’s teachers are very nearly the best paid teachers in the US and student performance is 48th. The Chicago teachers strike settlement appears to do nothing for students, but does increase teacher salaries. In the last 30 years there has been a dramatic increase in teachers’ salaries (inflation-adjusted), class sizes have decreased (meaning more teachers), but student performance has been stagnant. Teachers have been unionized in California for over 30 years — I don’t think this is a coincidence. Firing a teacher is virtually impossible. Teachers’ unions oppose merit pay and performance evaluations. Parents need to take responsibility for their children, and teachers need to take responsibility for teaching, and be individually accountable if they fail to perform acceptably.