Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Is public education “mission critical” to national defense?
This is a question we as a nation should consider as we watch our leaders perform during the looming budget battles. Arizona’s twin embarrassments in the US Senate– Jon Kyl and John McCain– will fight for defense spending and trickle-down economics at the expense of public education, while on the home front, Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona Legislature will fight for business tax cuts at the expense of public education and healthcare.
Two recent studies reveal the US is a country in decline– despite the GIANT Christmas present the President and Congress will be giving us in 2011.
A new study by The Education Trust shows that nearly a quarter of high school graduates cannot pass the Army entrance exam. Thirty-nine percent of black high school graduates; 29 percent of Latinos; and 16 percent of whites failed the test of basic questions. How bad is it when you’re not educated enough to be blown up? [Sarcasm warning.] From today’s Arizona Daily Star (emphasis added)…
The report by The Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.
“Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career – and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the AP. “I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.”…
“If you can’t get the people that you need, there’s a potential for a decline in your readiness,” said Barnett, who is part of the group Mission: Readiness, a coalition of retired military leaders working to bring awareness to the high ineligibility rates…
The military exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows that 75 percent of those ages 17 to 24 don’t even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.
A second study also released recently shows that US students are mediocre performers when test scores are compared with students from 65 other economies around the world. In reading, US students are average; in math, they are below-average; and in science, they have improved and are now average. From the ED.gov website…
“The hard truth,” [US] Secretary [of Education] Duncan said at Tuesday’s PISA announcement, “is that other high-performing nations have passed us by during the last two decades…In a highly competitive knowledge economy, maintaining the educational status quo means America’s students are effectively losing ground.”
According to Duncan, the US is in the process of reforming our educational system to mirror high-performing systems worldwide. Here are some of the other findings from OECD, the group that conducted the study. (Emphasis added.)
The OECD studied differing results between girls and boys, as well as the influence of class size, teacher pay and the degree of autonomy schools have in allocating resources. Findings include:
- Girls read better than boys in every country, by an average of 39 points, the equivalent to one year of schooling. The gender gap has not improved in any country since 2000, and widened in France, Israel, Korea, Portugal and Sweden. This is mirrored in a decline of boy’s enjoyment of reading and their engagement with reading in their leisure time.
- The best school systems were the most equitable – students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. But schools that select students based on ability early show the greatest differences in performance by socio-economic background.
- High performing school systems tend to prioritise teacher pay over smaller class sizes.
- Countries where students repeat grades more often tend to have worse results overall, with the widest gaps between children from poor and better-off families. Making students repeat years is most common in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.
- High performing systems allow schools to design curricula and establish assessment policies but don’t necessarily allow competition for students.
- Schools with good discipline and better student-teacher relations achieve better reading results.
- Public and private schools achieve similar results, after taking account of their home backgrounds.
- Combining local autonomy and effective accountability seems to produce the best results.
- The percentage of students who said they read for pleasure dropped from 69% in 2000 to 64% in 2009.
So, where do we go from here? I believe that state and federal government officials should look long and hard at the data from both of these studies. There are some clear take-home messages in my opinion:
2- Given that locally-designed curricula, equity in education, and student-teacher relationships are all supported by the data, Arizona should stop its vendetta against Raza Studies at Tucson High School.
3- Teachers, students, and the public education system should be valued and not vilified by ideologues.
4- Basing the attack on public education solely on student test scores– like the AIMS test– is bunk because it doesn’t take equity in education, poverty, and parental involvement into account.
5- The future of public education is the future of our country.
6- Yes, public education is “mission critical” to national defense and our future.