Education in the US

We talk about the importance of education, but do we walk the walk?

The faltering imperative

Whether the United States survives as the beacon it has been will depend on the willingness of Americans to contemplate anew the reasons for its success and to make decisions accordingly.

Balint Vacsonyi, 1936 – 2003
Musician, Immigrant, Educator, Political Journalist

Vacsonyi’s observation, made in 1998, presents a daunting task facing our society today. Failures in public education are eroding our ability to apply logic and reasoning (aka critical thinking) to address issues threatening the health and well-being of our nation and people.

Our founding fathers recognized that public education was foundational to a successful democratic society, and this principal remains crucial today. Recent evidence, however, points to the deterioration of public education in the U.S.

  • Inadequately prepared students will not only undermine our country’s ability to serve as a global leader, but also pose serious threats to our national security.
  • The high school graduation rate in this country fell from 77% in 1969 to 68.8% for the class of 2007. Although transforming the American high school and “leaving no child behind” have been explicit goals of the G.W. Bush and Obama administrations, the number of low-performing students remains unchanged.
  • California – celebrated as a major world economic power and center of knowledge-based industry – ranks 43rd in the US in per-capita educational funding and 30th in Education Week’s annual school ratings, measured in categories such as teacher/student ratios, teacher requirements for ongoing professional development, per-capita spending, and enrollments in preschool, kindergarten, and post-secondary schools.

How have we failed?
Well-meaning educators, researchers, parents and business leaders have initiated projects designed to promote educational reform, with generally flailing results. Misinformation and misunderstandings limit our ability to make decisions and take the actions necessary to move forward:

What has to change?
Turning around education in the U.S. is a daunting challenge. We must identify our failures, make fixing them a high priority, and devote the financial resources necessary to ensure our students are prepared to make informed decisions and inspired to participate in our democratic system.

We have to learn to walk the walk … again.

2 thoughts on “Education in the US

  1. I’m eager to see the documentary. Will it reveal how districts with schools in PI status (needing Program Improvement) are able to get around the NCLB mandates in order to accomplish goals beyond raising scores?

  2. One of the biggest failings of the education system is the failure to create informed citizens, as evidenced not only by the many ill-informed opinions articulated during the current election cycle, but by people voting against their own self interest and the interest of their fellow citizens. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) has led to a narrowing of school curriculum, leaving little space for engaging students in critical thinking about social issues. Against this backdrop, some schools have bucked to NCLB pressures and focused on place and community-based education, involving students in helping solve community problems while using these issues to motivate students in learning not only the 3Rs, but the basics of how to become an involved and informed citizen in a democratic society. Schools adopting place-based education policies seem to be able to both motivate their students and also create a more engaged school and community. My latest documentary, “Schools That Change Communities,” portrays a handful of public schools across the country who are involved in this cutting edge curriculum. For reviews, a trailer and DVD information see:

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