I was reading an article the other day regarding how far behind our 15-year-old students are compared to their counterparts around the world. We are 24th in reading, 36th in math and 28th in science. I find it amazing how we relish in putting out figures that are tainted just to make ourselves look bad. What has gone wrong with our national self-esteem?
Remember about 30 or so years ago when the Olympics we used to only play our amateurs against the pros from other countries? Then we put together our very best “The Dream Team, (In my opinion, which I respect, the greatest basketball team in history), and we blew the competition away. Why do we allow ourselves to put up with such tainted educational numbers?
Time for a lesson, pay attention. These other countries don’t have an idealistic program like our “No Child Left Behind.” WE DO. Other countries don’t grade themselves on issues like graduation rates. WE DO. They give a test somewhere around 12-13 years of age and those that don’t “hit the mark” are moved to factories, the fields or best case scenario, trade schools.
In other words they test only the “cream of their crop” and we include everyone. Usually I’m against such “rosy red glasses psychobabble.” However, I do in this case agree with our approach, but it comes with some negative issues. For instance, and this is the point of this article, it makes us look bad. I promise you that if we only tested our “cream of the crop” we would be well inside the top 10 in every category, but we give students a chance all the way to the end.
This means we keep students in school who may want to be anyplace else but in school. The lower group more likely to act and be disruptive (which brings down our standard, and harms the serious ones). These students usually have high absenteeism rates and take a disproportionate amount of time, however the upside (and I believe it’s worth it) is those few that I’ve seen over the years that somehow blossom and come alive during the 13-18 year range. Other countries would have already given up on them and moved them out, but here in America, “the land of opportunity in so many ways” we stock with them.
We the people need to understand this as we get startled with the present rankings. They are simply not comparing apples to apples.
Mike Brennan is a history teacher at Bartow High School.