Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


Their Chance to Move Up has to Start by K1

By Rob Tenery, MD on June 6, 2016

 If elected, Bernie Sanders has promised he would institute programs that “would make certain that every public college and university in America is tuition-free.”  Hillary Clinton has also echoed Sanders’ sentiment of free or affordable college education for all. The additional costs for either candidates’ plan is estimated to be in the range of $75 to 350 billion per year.  Funding concerns aside, their premise is that with more educational opportunities, the chances to move upward benefits those mired in the lower socioeconomic strata.

Senator Sanders and former Secretary-of-State Clinton’s emphasis on higher education may earn them more votes in the upcoming November election, but it seems they are missing a much more important point--- the inadequate education in many, if not most, of this country’s inner city elementary and high schools. Maybe instead of raising concerns for high school graduates, those efforts and any additional funding should be directed toward teaching the basics of math, reading and science in the nation’s elementary and high schools. Otherwise the divide between the haves and the have-nots will continue to grow.

The 2012 report released by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is very revealing. Their data is collected from 65 countries and is reevaluated every three years. Reported below:

 American 15-year-olds continue to turn in flat results in a test that measure students’ proficiency in reading, math and science worldwide, failing to crack the global top 20… U.S. students ranked below average in math among the world’s most-developed countries… and were average in science and reading.*

The results are even worse as the report continues. Eighteen countries bettered the United States in science in 2009. That number jumped to 22 by the 2012 report. In mathematics, 29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the United States, which is significantly up from 23 years ago. In reading skills, the number of countries that did better than the U.S. went from 9 to 19 from 2009 to 2012.*

The United States spends more per student than most countries, but it does not seem to provide better student performance. An example, given in the report, is the Slovak Republic, which spends the equivalent of $53,000 U.S. dollars per student versus this country at $115,000 per student.*

Trying to explain the continual decline of U.S. students versus other developed countries, must take into account the socio-economic backgrounds of the increasing percentage of disadvantaged students in the inner cities and poorer communities. The PISA report went on to point out that there was a 15% differential in student performance by disadvantaged students because they are less engaged, driven and motivated. The study did suggest that successful implementation of Common Core Standards would produce significant performance gains.

Feeling that America couldn’t remain competitive, former Arizona Governor and 2006-07 chairman of the National Governors Association, Janet Napolitano led a workforce initiative to lay out standards of what students should know and be able to do by each grade.

Common Core Standards seek to establish consistent educational standards across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing courses at two- or four-year college programs or to enter the workforce.

 Although Common Core Standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, Texas has chosen not to adopt the program, because of the rejection of federal intrusion into the pubic education system. Even in the early 1990s, under President George H.W. Bush, the U.S. Senate voted 99 to 1 against a set of national history standards supported by the federal government. The proponents of Common Core say they want to ensure the states are absolutely free on whether or not to adopt Common Core Standards. **

The answer to the decline of the education and performance of the new generation of Americans goes far beyond paying for college education and even adopting Common Core Standards for K1-12. It goes back to addressing the breakup of the American family where over 70% of black babies and almost 40% of all births in this country are born to unwed mothers.  Where the percentage of regular church attendance continues to decline.*** Where the percentage of all working mothers has increased to 65% in African Americans by 2012.

Where is the time for supervising homework, discipline and parenting? Where is the church, the father figure in many of these children’s’ lives? What about the inconsistencies in application of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, especially in the under-privileged communities? What about the higher rate of teacher turnover in the ‘hard-to-staff’ schools’?

The opportunity for an affordable college education should be available to all high school graduates who qualify. The obligation to these prospective students is not to ‘pay their way’, but to afford them the educational opportunities they deserve.

This country’s decline in educational performance has its roots in the breakdown of the American family. Lack of parenting and the high turnover of educators in the disadvantaged areas, breeds disrespect for authority and lack of motivation in the student population. This is where improving the methods of how best to prepare them for post high school learning should become the top priority. When the basics taught during K1-12 continue to lag behind the other developed countries, much of the promises proposed by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton seem misplaced.

References:

* http://www.npr.org/sections/the two-way/2013/12/03/248329823/u-s-high-school-students-slide-in-math-reading-scienceb

**  http://www.usnews.com/news/special-reports/articles/2014/02/27/the-history-of-common-core-state-standards

  *** http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/13/what-surveys-say-about-eorship-attendance-and-why-some-stay-home/

Epilog: America’s colleges and universities are among the best in the world. The Brookings Institution reported that 21percent of all international students choose to come to the Unites States for their post high school and graduate studies. In 2015, over 1 million foreign students are currently in this country completing their education. This accounts for roughly 4 percent of the student population that has grown by 70 percent since 2005.

 Although the income to this country from this additional tuition and graduate research funding is a definite benefit, do international students displace other students from this country who might apply for the same positions? The answer to that question might be determined by using three criteria: qualification, funding and allotment.

 Some institutions of higher learning pride themselves in diversity of their student body. In the private institutions that allotment criteria is their right. But in institutions that accept state and federal funding, this determination is at the least under the review by the funding entity. In those entities tuition costs and preparedness for the advanced curriculum must be a vital part of the admission evaluation process.





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