The education conundrum

Published 9:51 am Thursday, March 12, 2015

Certainly our students, parents, and teachers could agree on one thing — and that is the overriding purpose of our educational system: “To educate our children to the maximum of their individual abilities to learn.” Matter of fact, you could also throw the teacher’s union and the politicians into that mix as well. So, with our trust that all parties are performing their duties as expected, how is it working out for us thus far?

Our Department of Education figures, as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics, now has information which includes a battery of tests given to 15-year-olds in 60 different participating countries on the subjects of math, science and reading. The program is called PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and covers four separate testing years combined; 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012, with results just released in 2014. In mathematics the United State’s 15-year-olds ranked 36th out of the 60 countries. In reading we ranked 23rd while in science we managed to hold a spot at the 28th position. Only in science did we show a modicum of improvement in the nine years covered. Could we possibly be graded above a D minus on our efforts?

Observation of our education stalemate over time yields one further fact, while the participating parties in our system would likely deny they were at fault in the failing system, it does point out the obvious need for a program of accountability on several levels. Here’s where America has always shinned. We have a long history of heroes stepping up almost magically into the fray when needed.

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For instance, there is a fellow (only one out of many that responded) by the name of Gene Wilhoit out of the University of Kentucky who saw the need. He managed to obtain the much needed help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in perfecting an accountability plan that became known as Common Core.

Meanwhile, another hero is a fellow by the name of David Welch. His daughter’s vivid complaints of their school experience in California, the strongest teacher’s union state, caused him to ask the principal of a large local high school what he needed most to succeed — and was told “Give me control over my work force.” His ultimate winning of the Vargara v. California case, a difficult and lengthy trial with a judge’s ruling that stated, “Indeed, poor instruction actually injures children’s future earnings and life style.” Welch was a ticked-off parent, a father who wasn’t going to take it anymore. And that brings us to a final point:

While we now have literally a book full of heroes, people and groups finally working to correct our educational failings, and who will ultimately find a system of accountabilities that will work for us, let’s take a close look at the 60 countries whose 15-year-olds were tested. The top scoring seven countries were primarily Asians — Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and the like.

Much like Mr. Welch above, these parents took their parenting very seriously and oversaw that their kids finished school and led a successful life. They didn’t give up on them. That’s real accountability.

Imagine if all the American parents made that their goal as well. It works where ever it has been implemented. Our kids are worth it. We should all be held accountable for their success — or failure. So there you have it, ultimately the choice is really ours to make.

Al Lundin lives in Vicksburg.