Sept. 21, 2003
Just as money can't buy happiness, it apparently can't buy a quality education either. Not in this country. A new report issued last week identifies an alarming fact: The U.S. spends more public and private money on education than any other industrialized country, but, overall, American students are barely average in areas ranging from high school graduation rates to test scores in math, reading and science.
According to an annual review of 25 industrialized nations produced by the Paris-based organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. spent $10,240 per student from elementary school through college in 2000, well above the average of $6,361 among more than 25 nations.
The performance of 15-year-old America students on tests was a stunning under-achievement. In math, U.S. students ranked 19th, behind even the Czech Republic; in reading, 15th; in science, 14th.
Ponder that thought for a moment. Complacent. Self-satisfied. Often lacking in the will to do better. What an indictment of the status quo.
How to achieve better results in education is a key political issue this year, including the race for Mississippi governor. Grappling with budget cuts and a reluctance among voters to see their taxes increased, elected officials and wannabees now have double incentive to do better.
The federal No Child Left Behind law, which many teachers already detest, demands better performance from teachers and students. It requires states to achieve adequate yearly progress. Sanctions grow by the year for schools receiving low income aid that don't improve enough and one consequence is to let students transfer to a better school within their district. And that, of course, raises the issue of public school vouchers and portability.
Education in the U.S. today remains in a state of serious disconnect between money spent and results achieved. But money doesn't seem to be the real problem federal education spending has grown by $11 billion since President Bush took office.
Whether some like it or not, the No Child Left Behind law should be only a beginning. Much more creative re-thinking throughout the entire system is essential if the next generation of young people is to excel. Otherwise, American students will have fallen so far behind they may never catch up.