Friday, April 29

PUBLIC EDUCATION: OUTDATED PARADIGM?

The president spoke glowingly of the bi-partisan "No Child Left Behind" educational reform program last night and, proudly, of its emphasis on measurement. Well, I saw some measurement in the "Houston Chronicle" (registration required) this week and I wasn't any more impressed with the state of public education than I have been for many years now. Here was the story's lead:

A third of Houston's fifth-graders failed the state's math exam, the school district announced Monday, meaning 4,500 students face the threat of summer school, and perhaps another year in elementary school, if they don't manage to pass by August.
"The threat of summer school?" Couldn't that just as easily read "the threat of getting an education?" Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and one-third of its 5th graders cannot pass a math test! The president shouldn't be smiling at the cameras.

Sorry, Mr. President, but this is your home state and where you served as governor. I'm unimpressed. If this is your idea of progress than, dammit, let's get school vouchers passed throughout this country! The good news is there was a test; and failure to pass the test no longer leads to automatic matriculation to the 6th grade. But the bad news is -- and it is significant, is it not? -- that the public school system is not getting the job done (nor are the parents of many of these failing or borderline students).

I suspect part of the issue is that poorly educated parents, themselves products of a public education system gone bad, are indifferent to the education of their own children and neither support the school administrators, nor the teachers. I also suspect two other factors are driving these results: 1) illegal immigration (and the language barrier that confounds students and teachers alike); and, 2) the disintegration of the traditional two parents' household.

Now just how tough can a 5th grade math test be? We're talking addition, subtraction, long division, some rudimentary math formulas, and, I presume, the kind of word problems that make one apply what one has learned to real situations in life.

Bill Gates is "appalled" over the state of America's high schools and correctly thinks they're ill-equipped to produce the kind of educated workforce (with an emphasis on math and science) this country requires to be competitive in the worldwide economy. I agree with Mr. Gates that there needs to be a paradigm shift, but Bill Gates needs to understand that elementary and middle schools are not equipping children to be successful in high school and, in turn, high school graduates (the paltry percentage that even go on to college) are oftentimes ill-equipped to deal with college and university-level academics. The whole system is in need of a huge overhaul.

Just look at one of our nation's largest cities (bigger than Houston), Los Angeles, if you need further convincing.

Fifty-three percent of working-age Los Angeles County residents have trouble reading street signs or bus schedules, filling out job applications in English or understanding a utility bill. The national average is 48%, according to the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey.