In the film classic, “Casablanca,” the chief of police, played by Claude Rains, expresses profound “shock” that gambling has been taking place at Rick’s American Cafe. Similar expressions of shock were heard in our nation’s Capital earlier this month, with the release of an international survey of student achievement. This year’s Programme for International Study (PISA) test, which is administered every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), placed the United States far down in the pack in science, reading, and especially mathematics. The dismal results had the United States 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading. China was first.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the the results a “wake up call.” His reaction shows just how out of touch Washington is when it comes to education. If the United States hasn’t awakened by now to the fact that our schools are failing miserably to graduate students competent to compete in such key subject areas as math, science and basic reading, then we are in a permanent somnambulant state. The United States has been stuck among the lower percentiles in rankings such as the PISA, literally for decades. A “wake up call?” That came and went years ago.
This trend has continued despite repeated efforts by every modern president since Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960s, to make “education” one of their signature issues. George W. Bush heralded his “No Child Left Behind Act,” introduced at the very start of his first term in office in January 2001, as a major step forward to begin improving education in this country. The Act’s focus on federalizing tests and ranking schools obviously has failed to move the US forward. His successor’s program, the “Race to the Top” – which like its predecessor programs, focuses on throwing money at the problem – will enjoy no greater success when all is said and done.
The clear fact is — this is not about money. The United States spends tens of billions of dollars each year on public education, with a large chunk of that coming from taxpayers via the federal Department of Education. Individual cities and counties spend billions more, but studies show consistently there is no correlation between the amount of money spent per-pupil, and objective results achieved. In fact, some of the school districts with the highest per-pupil expenditures have the poorest test scores; my home city of Atlanta, Georgia is a prime example. The problems go far deeper than any amount of money thrown at the problem can ever hope to solve.
Until families and parents take responsibility for the education of their children; until the federal government gets out of the education business; and until state legislators and local school boards get serious about focusing on basic education rather than such matters as sex education, home economics, and political correctness, American students will continue to fall farther and farther behind students in other countries. And we as a country will sink further and further behind our competitors in the ability to compete in the world economic arena.