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The national shame of our schools

By Alan Caruba
web posted March 5, 2007

As February came to an end, a page one story in my local daily was headlined, "Retired teachers told: Medical bills on state." In what was described as "a side deal with the state teacher's union" New Jersey's Governor Jon Corzine had agreed that taxpayers would pick up their share of the bill cited at $53.6 billion!

These kinds of sweetheart deals exist everywhere state teacher's unions wield the kind of political power that exists in New Jersey. Political pundits have concluded that, if the National Education Association—a union—ever deserted the Democrat Party, it could no longer exist. They are the volunteers and much of the money that keeps it going.

A week prior, my daily reported "High schoolers see grades rise even as they lag on tests", a story by Associated Press reporter, Nancy Zuckerbrod. She noted that, "Two federal reports out yesterday offer conflicting messages about how well high-schoolers are doing academically. One showed that seniors did poorly on national math and reading tests. The other—a review of high school transcripts from 2005 graduates—showed students earning more credits, taking more challenging courses and getting better grades.

One report was the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It was created in 1964 when Congress concluded that American students were lagging behind those in other nations. They still are. The only difference today is that they are getting passing and better grades because no school wants to be deemed a failure under George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, enacted in 2002. We were assured it was going to be the cure for all our educational woes.

Instead, five years later, critics say that No Child Left Behind is the source of the problem. Have a problem with high standards? Don't want a school to be labeled a failure? Just lower the standards! The definition of "proficient" is such that not one, single State achieved the standards set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, while at the same time showing that their kids were somehow doing just great.

Why we even have a federal Department of Education defies a decent answer. Ronald Reagan took office with the intention of eliminating it from the federal bureaucracy. By contrast, George W. Bush put it in charge of how education is to be conducted coast to coast, thereby insuring that this, along with just about everything else the federal government is responsible for, will be done poorly.

The Department of Education is the FEMA of education. Got a crisis? They will study it to death and still not come forth with any other answer than to test, test, and test! The National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation's report card, has been flunking teachers and administrators for decades.

Meanwhile, Leave No Child Behind comes up for review in Congress this month. Does anyone think the people elected to public office, many of whom are the products of our failed educational systems, are going to find a way to improve it?

Leave No Child Behind currently requires reading and math tests annually in grades three through eight and once in high school. The Bush administration wants to add more testing in high school.  U.S. News and World Report recently noted that, "Two top Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would require the federal government to define the standards against which all states would be measured."

That's what we need, a new definition! New federal standards! More tests!

By now, anyone who was blessedly home schooled or has any common sense knows this is not the answer. Something is horribly wrong when just one-fourth of twelfth graders score as proficient or better in math and three-fourths were deemed "proficient" readers at the basic level. One assumes this means that they can read a paragraph without having to move their lips!

Less than half, forty-three percent of the white students scored at or above "proficient" levels on the reading test, compared with twenty percent of Hispanics and sixteen percent of black students. Putting aside the more than half of the white students that were not deemed "proficient", no one can tell me that Hispanics and blacks possess brains that cannot, if properly taught, master these fundamental skills.

That, however, brings us to the crux of the problem of education in America. The teachers. Thanks to the unions, it is virtually impossible to fire an incompetent teacher. Merit has nothing to do with teaching. Longevity is the name of the game. And the multitudinous layers of "administrators", the top among whom receive salaries that rival and surpass those employed in private industry, are part of problem too.

America needs another Revolution, an Education Revolution. Parents must rally, school by school, to wrest back control over their local schools from the teacher's unions. They must find a way to hire people who are actually competent in their subject areas. States must demand real standards for graduation from their colleges of education.

The Education Revolution can begin by writing to your Senator or Representative in Washington, D.C., and demanding that No Child Left Behind be allowed to go inactive. Then you will have fifty laboratories, the States, in which new curriculums can be tested to see what works and what doesn't. That knowledge will be shared and the overall quality of education will improve.

And maybe students will not have to attend schools that require armed guards at the doors and patrolling the hallways to maintain some semblance of civilization. Maybe students would not be just so much sausage to process through what passes for schools these days. ESR

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. His book, "Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy", is published by Merril Press. © Alan Caruba, March 2007

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