Monday, March 13, 2006

Education Reform Needed Now!

In spite of a booming economy, record homeownership and wealth, many Americans report being worried about their financial futures. They fear the threat to US competitiveness from the booming economies in China and India. They believe that outsourcing is the primary cause of US unemployment and the resulting social unrest.

I believe, conversely, that the greatest threat to American competitiveness is the inadequate education of too many Americans. To mention just one issue, the European Union now graduates 50 percent more engineers and scientists than the US, and Asia has recently passed us by. In 2001, China graduated 220,000 engineers as against 60,000 in the United States according to the National Scientific Foundation. Our advanced technological economy needs many more professionals with advanced technical degrees.

I believe, also, that the primary source of underemployment and social unrest is the failure of the education system to prepare the social class most in need of tools. Furthermore, “instead of fostering assimilation and harmony, our schools are increasingly a source of the very fragmentation and divisiveness they earlier did so much to prevent.” (Milton and Rose Friedman, “Free To Choose,” 1980)

If we are content to suffer a long, slow decline in our living standards and to become a nation with a huge, dissatisfied underclass, then the route is clear. Do nothing, and the union controlled school system supported by the Democratic Party will gradually strangle the competitiveness from the American worker.

In this series of posts, I will take a look back at education in America until “reform” led us astray; assess the sad state of student performance; and offer some radical proposals to fix the problem.

From the earliest days of the American Republic, the localities and states maintained “common schools” that were universally available (except to slaves) and financed primarily by the parents. The control was local and parents demanded quality. Then, beginning in the 1840s, there was a campaign to replace this diverse and largely successful school system by so-called “free schools” that were financed indirectly by taxes. This campaign was not led by dissatisfied parents, but mainly by teachers and government officials. The leaders of this movement were following the trend of autocracies in Prussia (1808) and in Napoleon’s France about the same time. Authoritarian and socialist elites in America advocated and established a school system that was “an island of socialism in a free market sea.”

Over time the new public school system led to several serious problems that we still face today. (1) Power shifted from parents in the local communities to remote entities at the state and federal level and to a gigantic, self-serving education bureaucracy. (2) The function of schools was expanded from teaching the three Rs plus common American values to promoting social mobility, racial integration and a whole host of special interests. (3) Education standards were relaxed to better accommodate the lowest common denominator and make it easier for teachers. (4) Discipline vanished in many schools because the power to enforce discipline was “severely circumscribed, and the power to expel virtually amputated.” (5) Spending on public education exploded from $2000 per pupil in 1978 to over $10,000 per student today (Has your income gone up 500% in that time?); and (6) Quality of education declined across the board from grade school to university. In fact, the longer a child spends in the school system the worse he or she does in standardized tests against foreign students.

This amounts to a rash of bad news for America and Americans. In the next post, I’ll take a closer look at the data. How bad is it really?


Blogger Ralph said...

Pretty bad and not getting better, just like every other activity where the government is in control

7:42 AM  
Blogger Roseville Conservative said...

Ray Haynes wrote a great e-mail along the same lines for this week's Monday Memorandum.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill - the 1980 research you cite is old....old... stuff - Would you consider finding something newer to back up your point? I think it would bring more credibility to your points if you did so.

And I find it not to be true at least at the Community College level. I ask my students all the time if they have been discriminated against or feel as if the area is racist and not one has raised his or her hand. This point really isn't seen at the community college level. Perhaps at Ivy League schools or private schools but not at the "general education level."


11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So right on! I wish the powers that be would hear your voice of reason before it's too late for this generation!


11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on! Now, if we can get rid of "multiculturalism" and get back to corporal punishment, everything would be great! Yay!

12:10 PM  

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