Number One in the History of American Education series describing how American education went over the edge of the cliff. When the history of American education is completed, other issues such as pedagogy, subject matter, who should be responsible for education, etc. will be put up for discussion.
"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." Derek Bok, President of Harvard University, 1971-90.
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Education published the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, an international assessment of how well the students of twenty-one nations performed academically in these subjects. American students scored 19th.
Of the sixteen nations that participated in the math portion, our best and brightest, math students taking advanced placement classes, scored 15th.
In calculus, they were 14th out of 15, and in geometry, they were dead last.
In the science portion, advanced placement high school senior physics students, who were the pride of the Intel Science Search, also scored last.
In a statement about the quality of our math students, the Department of Education said that half of 17 year olds lacked the math skills commonly taught in the 8th and 9th grades.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally conducted assessment of learning in reading, math, science, history, and geography, found the following: Two out of three didn’t know the meaning of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation; half the high school students didn’t recognize Patrick Henry’s challenge “Give me liberty or give me death;” even fewer knew that there had been a War of 1812, or had heard of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after WWII.
In science, the majority couldn’t figure out that a shadow cast by the rising sun would fall to the west.
In geography, the majority were unable to locate Southeast Asia on a world map.
Only one 11th grader in eight was deemed “adequate” in a test of analytical writing.
The Scholastic Aptitude Test was taken by 70% of 11th graders between 1988 and 1998. During that decade, the scores of “A” students declined by a statistically significant 13 points, even though at the same time, the number of “A” students taking the test increased by 30%.
Why was this?
Quite simply, there was an active attempt to disguise the students’ declining academic achievement by inflating their grades.
TV talk show host Jay Leno, and TV-radio talk show host Sean Hannity often do “Man in the Street” interviews, usually of young adults, many of whom are college students. They run across such things as: the inability to name the three main branches of the government; to recognize a picture of Hillary Clinton; or to name the Vice President of the United States.
The business community has complained that a third of high school graduates need remedial training in the “basics” in order to be able to function in the jobs for which they were hired.
The high-tech industry says that it would not be able to stay in business if their employees were limited to hiring American-educated graduates; they must hire large numbers of better-educated foreigners in order to maintain productivity.
Our graduate schools award about 45% of the Ph.D.s in the hard sciences such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, and computer science to foreigners, without whom many departments in these subjects would have to close their doors.
As far back as 1983, in a stunning federal report called “A Nation at Risk,” it was shown that student performance was falling at all levels, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The situation was considered so serious that it was described in terms of a plot: If an enemy of our country wanted to do us grave harm, it would design and implement the educational system we had then. Today, nearly 25 years later, the situation remains essentially unchanged.
Has our educational system become a “fixer-upper”?
Some - and I am among them - believe it has been brought to its knees, and that our culture, our country, and our very civilization are at serious risk as a result.
Next time, I'll begin to discuss how we started down the road that led us to this point.