The kids are not alright

Schools contribute to the dumbing down of America

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The kids are in peril. The unemployment rate among Americans aged 18-29 is 50 percent higher than the national average. More than 43 percent of recent college graduates who have jobs do work which does not require a college education.

If the Obama administration policies which keep unemployment high are reversed, for most of us, the recession will end. But the kids will still be screwed, because they don't know what they need to know to survive in the global economy.

The key is STEM education -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. The United States used to be the world's leader. Today, we're one of just three of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development where the kids know no more about these subjects than their parents did.

The kids don't know much of anything else, either. More than half of high school seniors scored "below basic" in their knowledge of history, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress.

In a National Geographic survey, half of Americans aged 18-24 couldn't find New York state on a map. Only 3 percent of high school students could pass the citizenship test foreigners take to become Americans, a survey in Oklahoma found. Only a handful of the roughly 6,000 students who've passed through his classroom know how to form a sentence or write an intelligible paragraph, a retiring high school teacher told Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle.

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance," said Harvard University president Derek Bok (1971-1991).

Boy, was he right! For the monumental ignorance described above, we spend, on average, $10,615 per pupil in the public schools. That's almost 250 percent more, in real terms, than we spent in 1970, when students were learning.

Kids today don't even know how little they know. "Many students tell me that they are the most well-informed generation in history," said George Mason University professor Rick Shenkman.

If we had more teachers, and paid them more, the problem would be solved, teacher unions say. Since 1970, the number of teachers and administrators in public schools has risen 11 times faster than enrollment. This has meant more union dues, more campaign contributions for Democrats. But students learn less.

Not because teachers are underpaid. Their compensation is 150 percent more than for private sector workers with similar skills, according to a study last year by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. On an hourly basis, teachers earn more than most accountants, architects and nurses.

There are many good teachers. It isn't they who teacher unions represent. If we got rid of the worst 5 to 7 percent of teachers, that alone would lift our schools back among the world's best, said the Hoover Institution's Eric Hanushek. But it's for that 5 to 7 percent that teacher unions go to bat.

About 30 percent of high school students studying math, 60 percent studying the physical sciences, are taught by teachers who did not major in the subject in college, or are not certified to teach it.

"How in the world can we expect our students to master science and technology when their teachers may not have mastered it?" asked U.S. News publisher Mortimer Zuckerman.

The retired or layed-off professionals who could close the gap are kept out of the classroom because they haven't taken the dreck education courses the cartel has made prerequisites.

Schools of education are by no means the only reason why things are as bad -- or worse -- at the next level. Students are more likely to leave college with massive debt than with marketable skills.

For Democrats, support for "education" means giving teacher unions whatever they want. More Americans disagree. In Gallup's annual poll in June, only 29 percent expressed confidence in public schools, the lowest level ever recorded. That's down from 58 percent when Gallup first asked the question in 1973.

"How much ignorance can a country stand?" Mr. Shenkman asked. "There have to be terrible consequences when it reaches a certain level."

We'll find out soon what those consequences are, Mr. Morford's teacher friend thinks. To "escape what he sees will be the surefire collapse of functioning American society in the next handful of years," he's considering moving out of the country.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (, 412-263-1476).


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