America’s education system, once among the world’s best, has fallen on hard times. The latest evidence of this can be found in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an exam given every few years by the federal Department of Education to fourth, eighth, and 12th graders.
The latest results of this test show that only one third of American students exhibited proficiency in science and technology. Only three percent of students are classified as “advanced.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “[t]hirty-four percent of fourth-graders scored at or above proficient. Describing the life cycle of an organism is an example of a skill demonstrated by fourth graders at the proficient level. Thirty percent of eighth graders met the mark, by demonstrating, for example, that they could recognize plants produce their own food.” As students progress in age, it seems their knowledge declines, as only 21 percent of 12th grade students met the criteria sufficient to be considered proficient.
In this month’s issue of Reason magazine, economist Veronique de Rugy explains that a lack of accountability in our education system has led to stagnant scores and complacency, despite the fact we are second in the world in per pupil spending. She explains, “[w]e have tried spending more money and putting more teachers in classrooms for more than a generation, with no observable improvements to anything except the schools’ bottom lines.”
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama promised even more spending on education and for his Race to the Top initiative – a stimulus program that will be carried forward as the Obama Administration’s version of his predecessor’s “No Child Left Behind” Act – as a way to “win the future.”
Rhetoric aside, however, this administration is not moving in the right direction. In its first year in office, for example, the Obama administration killed the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program for low-income students in the District of Columbia. These scholarships were one of the few federally-funded initiatives that were actually working; providing hundreds of students with opportunities that would ordinarily be beyond their reach.
We cannot “win the future” by preserving the status quo. Continuing to pour money into a system that has no real accountability is no way to ensure our children regain the competitive edge they enjoyed in generations past. Absent fundamental changes in our approach to education, scores such as the most recent NAEP results will – sadly –continue to be the norm.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code