This chapter is from the book I am publishing now. It is rough and I will be making changes. My goal is to hire a professional editor to help me with structure, word choice and to cut unecessary explanation.
We’re the Smartest People In the World
Boy are we smart. This is America, Greatest Country in the Universe, and we have the best education system imaginable. We have the best educated citizens in the world, the best universities and the most registered patents. Every time I look around I am blown away by the combined brain power on display each and every Monday Night Raw! Did England invent Harvard? Did China start Yale? Each and every year we pump out hundreds of thousands of trained geniuses ready to conquer the globe and go on to start high quality publications like Guns and Ammo or websites like Perez Hilton. We invented tip calculators to take care of simple math operations. We have our smart phones to look up simple facts like the year of our constitution or why November 11th is an important date. We can write at the second grade level and get all our news from 15 second sound-bites.
Personally, I’m amazed we can fit all those smarts in our tiny brains. Where does it all go? Maybe our eyes are like that shrink ray from Honey I shrunk the Kids, and all those books just got teleported into some filing cabinet in our noggin! Actually, I think we need to cut school short. What the hell do we need to spend 12 years of our lives sittin’ in some stupid classroom listening to some old codger go on and on about the revolutionary war? That shit was like 70 years ago! And College, don’t get me started on college…
One thing I am pissed off about it is all the money we pay to educate kids in America! Somebody told me the other day we have teachers who teach in Spanish, SPANISH! This is America where we speak English hombre! How about all that money we’re throwing away on teaching Art. What are we turning into Parie where everyone goes around blabbering about a toilet sitting in some stupid art gallery. Back in my Grand pappy’s day kids only went to school for 8 years then they went and got a damn job! I don’t want my damn tax money going to pay for some immigrant’s kids to get an education so he can steal my job at the Rubbermaid factory! I am sick and tired of paying for all these handouts to undeserving kids who are sucking off the American tit and drinking her dry of the sweet sweet milk that brought us Beer Pong and Corn Hole. Why don’t we teach that in school? I’m having a hell of a time finding a partner who can score more 2 points a turn and loser buys, so it sucks, BAD!
In America we’re smart enough and for those people who can’t read or do basic math we have a few smart people who make life simpler for us, like Rush Limbaugh who tells my people the truth or those guys who make cool apps to help us balance our check book. We spend too damn much money on education while the rest of America goes to hell in a handbag. Are we cranking out Jeff Foxworthys or Dale Earnhardt Jr.s? If not, I want my money back Obama.
The education system in America is broken. We hear it from every angle. Failing kids, under performing students. High school graduate who can’t do college level work. Adults who can’t read, write or do basic math. The situation is scary, yet most people are oblivious unless they get outside of their own social circle.
If the goal in America is to go to college, we are failing. Out of every 100 students who enter high school only 18 will graduate with a 4 year degree.1 This is ridiculous. In the modern world, information and technology are more important than natural resources or the size of a country’s workforce and America is losing our educational edge. We are an innovation economy and without highly educated workers on the cutting edge of the technological world, we will fall behind other countries which do a better job churning out able educated workers. We can’t compete with 3rd world countries for manufacturing and we can’t go back to 1950’s America where we are the workshop of the world. The America of our grandparent’s age is gone and in this world, education matters. It is America’s competitive edge and a high school education is simply not sufficient to prosper in the modern world.
We have 1700 failure factories across the country.2 These are high school which graduate less than 60% of their entering 9th grade students. That means if you pick 10 of your friends from high school and you all went to one of the failure factories, 4 would drop out and only 6 would get to walk across the stage and get a diploma and handshake from the principal. Out of those 6 friends who actually graduated only 1 would complete a college education. These schools are not acceptable. The difference in lifetime earnings between someone with a 4 year degree and a person who dropped out of high school is staggering and we as a nation can not afford to leave 40% of our students with a future of poverty and hardship.
Even the students who do graduate high school are not prepared for university or the workforce. Our general math scores have been declining compared to the rest of the world for years. You might think that is because the rest of the world is getting better, and you would be right, but America is also getting worse. Our SAT scores have been stagnant for the last 30 years even though we spend an ever increasing amount of money per child for their education. Less than 40% of students are proficient in basic math for their grade levels and it seems to get worse as they get older and farther along in the school system.3 How can we as a country compete at an international level when less than half of our society is proficient in basic math? How can an individual compete against other applicants when they are not proficient in basic math?
Almost a quarter of all adults in America are functional illiterate.4 That means if you chose 10 of your friends, 2 couldn’t locate information in a newspaper article. On the other end of the scale, 2 of your friends would read at an advanced level according to the International Adult Literacy Survey. The 6 friends in middle will understand the article to varying degrees. Maybe only 2 of your friends will be able to tell if an opinion is supported by fact or the reasoning given is logical. How will functionally illiterate people understand written tasks at work, advertisements, loan paperwork or live their lives without assistance? Is it acceptable to leave a quarter of our country unable to survive in a modern written world without assistance?
The American higher education system is still the envy of the world and our K-12 public system used to hold the same vaulted status. Many education systems around the world were modeled off ours and we are still a leader in educational research. So, how did we fall from being the best in the world to middle of the pack in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)?
Basically our high school graduation rates have been falling for the last 40 years.5 When we can’t graduate kids from high school, they can’t go to University. Beyond the declining graduation rates, there is good evidence that we are “dumbing-down” our school curriculum given that American students are getting creamed in international competitions for math, science and reading. We have been throwing money at the problem, but we are not seeing any results. Only luxemburg outspends the US per child and we are merely an average performer among developed nations.
One reason we can’t graduate kids is that we can’t get them to focus on school. There was once a time when people like Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa were revered for the commitment to civic duty, education and moral strength. Once, we had superheroes that fought evil, invented rocket ships and made medical breakthroughs, but in many ways we have replaced all reverence for bettering society as a whole to physical talents. Lebron James is a great example. Here is a man who was 6’7” at 16 and may have grown up with a basketball in his hands. He can dunk. He can Shoot. He can Block. He can Tweet! He gets paid more than our President and all members of Congress combined. From the halls of high school to a multi-million dollar contract in the span of months. Education, who needs it when you become richer than God putting a ball through a hoop.
We have kids all across America spending hours a day working on their jump shot while dust settles on the pre-algebra book. What Nike, Reebok and Adidas fail to convey in their saturating marketing is the inverted pyramid of professional sports. We have camps for the top tier high school players where they are interviewed relentlessly and treated like royalty, but the average 10 year old doesn’t get to see the 10,000 great players who didn’t make the cut and were left with a broken dream, no education and no marketable job skills. The housing projects are filled with “almosts” who had no backup plan. Yet, kids think education is not important when they can “make it pro” and make millions of dollars.
School was never meant to be fun, but in times past it was a forgone conclusion young people would go and try to learn. Now it is uncool to be smart and get good grades. This is especially true among minorities, where a student with good grades will be bullied and accused of “selling-out” for studying and knowing the answers on the test. A great curriculum, good teacher and new school can’t fight the culture and social network of a kid if he will be punished for doing well in school.
Our system is broken and we need to focus on specific areas to look for solutions. The problem needs be attacked on many fronts and there is no silver bullet. The educational culture in America needs to be changed. Not every student will be a university graduate. We used to have a 2 track system in America where some students received university preparatory classes and others received vocational training. In our current system everyone is expected to go to university, but with only 18 out of 100 students graduating with a 4 year degree this ideal is misplaced. Would a two track system of the past benefit students more than the current system where every kid is supposed to go to college?
We have a disturbing lack of parental involvement among lower performing students. The children of high income, high education parents are constantly monitored by their parents. Their parents are able to provide assistance with homework and encouragement when needed. These children will not be allowed to fail. We don’t need to worry about the top 10-30% of our students, because they are the best in the world, but the other 70% are failing and some of that failure rests with a lack of parental involvement. Teachers always point to the home life of a failing student and they have a point. Without parental involvement, students will not be held accountable for their school performance. How is a kid going to succeed when their parents aren’t at home or don’t care about school?
Teachers will assign most blame to the parents, but we also have some bad teachers. The effect a bad teacher has on a student is huge. A bad teacher can ruin a student and push them farther away from graduation. We know we have bad teachers in our schools. That is a fact. Every job in the world will have a certain percentage of people who are not proficient. The problem is first identifying the bad teachers. Once we identify a bad teacher we can try to get them extra training and elevate their ability to teach children. If that doesn’t work, we need to get them out of the classroom. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to remove a teacher after they have tenure, which usually happens after 3 years.
Teacher’s Unions are extremely powerful in the US and they donate large amounts of money to both republican and democratic candidates. They fight pay for performance, meaning they are against incentivisng teachers to produce better results. This is a great idea, but is very hard to implement, but we should be looking for ways to pay great teachers more money so we can reward people who are good at their work. Teacher’s Unions are also against standardized curriculum across the nation. Should we have standardized curriculum for the entire nation? If yes, we would know every kid in every school is getting the same core knowledge. On the other hand, how are we supposed to decide what they need to know. Should we be paying teachers for performance based on standardized tests? Great teachers deserve more money as they can bring an under performing student up to grade level, but using standardized tests has limitations. What other measures could we use to judge bad, proficient, good and great teachers? These are tough questions which need to be discussed, but we definitely can’t afford to continue on the present course.
Failure factories have to be closed. For whatever reason these schools are failing almost half of their students by not getting them to graduation and they have to be closed or completely altered. A school with a drop out rate of 10% is too high and needs modification. A school with a drop out rate of 20% is outrageous and needs serious consideration. A school with a drop out over 30% needs to be changed so that we can reach more of those students and keep them from falling into a life of poverty.
The No Child Left Behind initiative has not done much to improve the situation in our schools. Schools have been closed and scores have marginally increased, but these score increases may be entirely attributed to a nationwide lowering of testing standards. Under the program each state is in charge of deciding what counts as a passing score. Many states simply reduce the requirements to be considered meeting standards, rather than actually increasing test scores. On nationwide tests students are under performing, but magically at the state level students seem to be improving. Many argue the “MBA mindset” is not applicable to a soft science like education anyway. So, if the massive No Child Left Behind initiative is failing, what can we do to return American kids to the top of the educational heap?
Every few years there is a new and improved teaching method which is bandied about as the cure all panacea. Currently small schools are in vogue. Many times a large under performing school is closed and the same building re-opens with 2-3 smaller schools. The thinking is that with smaller schools the teachers can focus on individual students since there will be fewer students in the school. Another idea is more peer-to-peer mentoring or specific computer education which could be altered for each student based on their individual progression. All of these are good ideas and seem logical. If a teacher has 30 students to focus on, they can tailor their lessons to a smaller set of students. The same is true with individual or small group tutoring. There is a big push away from the old style of lecture teaching to 20+ students and towards a more individualized approach with more discussion between the students and teachers.
The biggest drawback to this kind of education is simply cost. America currently spends more money per child than any other country, and to give each child an individualized lesson will cost still more. With smaller schools, the kids get more attention, but they also don’t have the same elective choices as students in larger schools. How can a school with 100 students offer 4 languages, computer, art and photography classes? They can’t unless they get more money, which means partnering with other small schools or charging tuition. Are we willing to spend even more money per child and hope the results are better?
What about changing the entire school structure along with the teaching methods? It is well known Asian students study a lot more than Americans, so some have advocated increasing the studying time. This has been adopted by the KIPP schools. Their students are in school for along hours, sometimes 8am – 8pm, and even go to school on Saturdays. They have had very impressive gains with this model of intense study and having kids do their homework at school. This model keeps kids out of trouble and away from what may be a volatile home situation for as long as possible. The KIPP success is undeniable, but there are not enough seats in the KIPP schools for every student from a low performing school. So, they must accept students by doing a lottery. Students who want to go to a KIPP school put their name in a bucket and then an administrator pulls out a certain number of names who will get to change schools. This is a fair system, but it turns out the students who don’t have their names pulled, also do pretty well in their old under performing school. Maybe the kinds of students and parents who want in to a KIPP school have something other under performing students don’t have, because they perform about the same whether they get into the KIPP school or not. Is the KIPP model successful because of the extra hours, teachers and methods or because the students who go there WANT to be there and learn?
One reason KIPP schools are successful is that they demand a parental commitment. To get into a KIPP school is not good enough, once the student is enrolled, they have to maintain a strict code of conduct and their parents must be active in the learning process. This is something we need to have in all schools. Parents have to be involved in their child’s education if we are going to improve student performance. Maybe teachers should take time off from teaching and get out and meet parents. Maybe we need to create a special staff member who would liaison with ALL parents, not just the ones who get in trouble or perform at high levels. Would it be possible to have special Parent Teacher Association meetings late at night, early in the morning or on the weekends to allow parents with strange work hours to attend? Police departments around the country have done a great job connecting with communities. The police stop crime and protect citizens, schools do the same thing for kids. If a kid gets through school their chance of being unemployed, poor or in jail go way down. Could the schools and police team up for community events and outreach programs to keep parents involved with the students education before the police must become involved in the child’s life? Parents need to understand they are a critical part in the education process and we need to respect and value their input. They must understand and value the education our schools provide.
Making kids and parents understand the value of an education will be tough, but it is necessary if we want to get kids performing at or above grade level. Countries that lead the world in educational standards all have a focus on education from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent. In Asia, kids try to emulate the students who have the highest scores in the class. In America, those kids are bullied. How can we get kids to see education as the key to their future.
One way would be to be vocal about the immense income gaps between those with a high school degree and drop-outs. University educated students earn 300 percent more money over their lives than those who drop out of school. Most kids don’t know this. We idolize people who dropped out of university such as Bill Gates, Michael Dell or Mark Zuckerburg, but kids need to know they are the exception rather than rule. Sports are great. Sports teach teamwork, work ethic and social skills, as well as keeping kids in shape, but they need to be viewed as a backup plan to education, not the other way around. Kids need to understand less than 1 in 10,000 athletes ever makes any money playing sports, whereas 99% of kids with a 4 year degree make more money than those who dropped out of high school. Parents need to get this information too. Parents of immigrants understand the value of an education, which is why many 2nd generation Asian immigrants get university degrees. How can we get all parents and kids to value education like these recent immigrants? Maybe we should be spending more money selling the idea of an education, rather than simply dumping knowledge on kids.
Who are some good role-models for kids to emulate? If the goal is get kids interested in learning, than successful highly educated people will be key. Educated doesn’t always mean a 4 year degree. Bill Gates is highly educated, but much of his knowledge was gained through self education. That’s OK, as long as we get kids interested in learning, it doesn’t matter if some of that happens outside of the classroom. 50 Cent is a smart guy. If you ever hear him speak, you will see him as more than a rapper. He can speak to fans and emphasize what an education can do for their lives. We need to try to disassociate education with a strict classroom interpretation. If we can make kids view schools as a launching pad to other areas of learning, we will be in business. A guy who knows how to work on a car or fix a pipe is educated, just not in middle ages poetry. Kids need to know school is where they can learn how to learn and then follow their passions where they lead.
In many countries more money is spent on under performing students than those who are performing at grade level. Could we do that here in America? Should we “double-down” on poor performing students and throw more time, energy and money at their education? If we want to keep kids in school and off the street, the ones who are at risk of failing need more attention. We have programs like this in place, such as Big-Brother, Big-Sister and we may be able to expand this model to all kids at risk of failing. The kids in the top 10% of the class already know the material, so the teacher could focus more on the bottom 30%. This may seem unfair to the rest of the class, but if we lose 20-40% of 9th graders, they will eventually be a drag on our society. When drop-outs can’t get jobs, we pay for them. When drop-outs go to jail, we pay for them. When drop-outs have children we pay for them. Students who drop out have higher rates of incarceration, unemployment, children in the government funded WIC program and enrollment in Medicaid. We can spend the money to keep kids in school, or we can pay 10 fold when they can’t find jobs and make bad decisions later.
Trying to solve our education crisis will cost money, but staying the course will also cost money. First, we already spend more money than other OECD countries per child and we are middle of the pack at best, so we are overpaying for an under delivering system now. We are getting are sub par results and the rest of the world is improving as we flounder. If we can’t improve our education system we could suffer serious economic costs. Already Tech companies are looking outside the US borders for skilled workers. Around the country it is getting more difficult to find a doctor or dentist who was born in America. Kids are shying away from the hard sciences, like math and engineering, but this is where the world is heading. If we can’t do a better job educating our children we will be left behind in the world economy.
Education, Smeducation. All this hot air wasted on extra schooling is just a ploy by the liberals to get my people over to the blue donkeys. They want us to know facts and history and maybe even talk about social issues in school, IN SCHOOL! Every one knows values are taught at home. Why do we need to learn all this useless knowledge like Algebra or Geography? We have smart phones and Wikipedia for that.
First, they will have us spending more money on education. Next, they will want to give away free lunch. Once people get on the dole, they will never get off, so providing kids with free food, books and teaching is leading our children away from a solid American work ethic. No one gets a free ride in America, so we need to get our kids out of the classroom and into a job.
My people don’t need anything more than a minimum wage gig down at the factory or local fast food restaurant, so what good is the history of World War II for putting together a Big Mac or working a plastic tumbler? Not a damn bit of good I say, so all this education is really stealing money out of my people’s pockets. If kids could just skip school and go to work at 10 years old imagine all the extra money they could be raking in. Plus, since we wouldn’t have any schooling, my people wouldn’t have to give up their tax money for this out of date institution, which would allow us to reduce the tax rates on corporations and wealthy folks! Now, that is something we can get behind! We need to fight this spread of government bureaucracy and getting rid of compulsory political indoctrination they call school is the first step!
1http://www.highereducation.org/reports/hunt_tierney/tierney.shtml – Tierney’s report is informative and points to some suggested solutions. Mostly, he concludes our system is broken and if we don’t start pumping out more highly educated workers we will lose out to countries who will.
2http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/wdc/dropout/index.html – This is a pretty cool interactive map where you can easily view the states with the highest number of “Failure Factories.” It is a good visual representation of the educational landscape in America.