Friday, December 30, 2011

U. S. Education by the Numbers

The year now coming to an end has been good for education reformers.  That doesn't mean it has been a good for education, necessarly; but reformers have had a field day, blaming teachers and teachers' unions for almost every problem in the schools. 

In 2011 we were warned that America's educational decline undermined our standing in a global economy.  We heard that charter schools and vouchers would save U. S. education.  Arne Duncan, U. S. Secretary of Education, pushed the idea that standardized testing was the key.  Michelle Rhee, the Queen of Hearts in reforming circles, insisted that all school improvement boiled down to better teachers in the classrooms.  Steven Brill--a lawyer, by trade--wrote a book, laying out the same essential case.  And Davis Guggenheim's savaged teachers as lazy, incompetent union bums in the movie Waiting for Superman.

Meanwhile, I continued to amuse myself, trying to write a book about teaching.  Naturally, I am making myself the handsome hero of the story.  When Hollywood buys the rights, I even know who I want to play me in the film version:  Brad Pitt. 

(I think we look like twins.)

At any rate, here are some education statistics you might have missed recently:

0:  We know U. S. schools are killing our nation's standing in the global economy, right?  This number represents the growth in the Japanese economy since 1991 (it was $5.7 trillion two decades ago and it's $5.7 trillion now), despite a "superior" education system.  In a survey done in 2009, comparing fifteen-year olds from 65 countries, Japanese students ranked #5 in reading, #4 in math, and #2 in science.

1:  Number of unions representing teachers in the Wyoming City Public Schools, here in Ohio, where graduation rates are 98% and 2% of children qualify for the federal free lunch program.  Same number representing teachers in Cincinnati Public Schools (bordering the Wyoming schools) where graduation rates are 81.9% and roughtly 60% of students qualify for the same program.

1.8:  Estimated % growth of U. S. economy in 2011; critics say it's the public schools' fault.  (U. S. public school teachers are apparently a bunch of miscreants.) 

4.4:  In 2009, Finland ranked #2 in that same survey of fifteen-year olds in reading, #2 in math and #1 in science. Finland is also a socialist country and only 4.4% of children grow up in poverty. In the United States, the comparable figure is 22%. 
5:42:  Hours and minutes spent daily watching TV or playing video games, average child in the U. S., age 8-18, compared to 38 minutes with printed material.  (See:  U. S. test scores below.)

6:  Number of years actually spent in the classroom by leading voices in education reform, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, Joel I. Klein and Catherine Black, two recent chancellors of the New York City schools, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates and Eli Broad, billionaire philanthropists, Jon Schnur, who runs the school-reform group New Leaders for New Schools, Brill, Rhee, who promised to save the Washington, D. C. schools, Guggenheim, Chester Flynn Jr., think tank expert and staunch advocate of No Child Left Behind, Duncan, and six other U. S. secretaries of education, combined.  That's right:  combined.

8:  Percentage growth of Brazilian economy in 2010.  Brazil ranks 52nd in reading, 57th in math and 53rd in science out of 65 nations.

10:  Percentage of babies born in Scioto County, Ohio, with illegal drugs in their blood.  (You can see where this might be hard to pin on teachers.)

12:  U. S. ranking in survey of 65 nations in reading (three-way tie with Iceland and Poland).

14+:  Hours the average student in South Korea spends per day in school, doing homework, and in special after-hours tutoring sessions. In 2009, South Korea ranked #1 in the international survey noted above in reading, #1 in math and #3 in science.

15:  One out of every fifteen U. S. high school students admits smoking marijuana on a nearly daily basis in 2011.

17: U. S. ranking in science knowledge, for fifteen-year-olds, out of 65 nations.

25:  U. S. ranking in math, above.

33:  U. S. standing, out of 33 "advanced economies," in a survey by the International Monetary Fund, in a ranking of preterm births and infant mortality.

36:  Dollars per month, average pay for garment workers in Bangladesh, where exports have doubled since 2004.  (You figure a superior system of education has nothing to do with this trend.)

43:  Number of points higher--average SAT math scores--of Asian American students, who attend the same "failing schools" as white, black and Hispanic students.

46:  Percentage of American adults who admit they did not read a single book last year not required for school or work.  (See U. S. reading scores above.)

96:  Number of reporters who showed up in 2009, to watch Tom Brady's first practice after missing most of the preceding NFL season with a serious knee injury.  (You couldn't get 96 reporters to show up to watch the best teacher in America work in the next 96 years.  We don't exactly focus on education in this country.  See Japan and South Korea, above.)

108:  Number of major league baseball players taking prescribed medications for A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. in 2008,  after Major League Baseball began testing for amphetamines.  (It makes you wonder if doctors might not be over-doing.)  More generally, the Mayo Clinic estimates that 7.5% of all U. S. students are now taking Ritalin for A.D.D. and A.D.H.D.

200:  Estimated murders of children in the U. S. by their parents every year.  (Not all parents are the same and it's hard to see how vouchers will solve every "school" problem.)

240:  Days spent per year in school by the average Japanese student.  If U. S. students score lower than the Japanese it may be due in part to the fact that the Japanese boy or girl attends as many days in 3 years as his or her American peer does in 4.

245:  Chicago public school students killed or wounded, mostly as a result of gang violence, during the 2009-2010 school year, almost entirely outside of schools and off school grounds.  (This is the district Arne Duncan "fixed," by the way.) 

670:  Length in pages of the No Child Left Behind Law, designed to close the achievement gap between races, (see Asian American students, above) and passed by Congress in 2002, requiring schools to insure that every child is proficient in reading and math by 2014.  This gap is entirely the fault of schools, even though black males are six times more likely to be murdered than white males, blacks have an unemployment rate twice as high as whites, a life-expectancy four years shorter, and are three times more likely to raise their children in single-parent homes.

8,500:  child abuse and neglect cases in one year in Hamilton County, Ohio.  Call Children's Services in your area for comparable statistics.  (See:  vouchers and charter schools, above.)

17,000:  School resource officers presently employed in U. S. schools (a euphemism for "police" in halls). 

132,000:  Students now in U. S. public schools, classified as "severely disabled" .  (See:  No Child Left Behind, above.)  This represents only a small fraction of the 6.5 million students on special education plans in the public schools.

954,914:  Homeless children in America, according to most recent statistics by the U. S.  Department of Education.  (Charter schools?  Really?  That's your answer?)

1,500,000:  U. S. students, grades K-12, with at least one parent behind bars at any given moment.

5,000,000:  yearly salary of Ronald J. Packard, chief executive of K12 Inc., the biggest for-profit company in on-line education.  Packard's schools are almost entirely funded by taxpayer money, based on number of students enrolled. 

26,500,000:  Money spent by K12 Inc. in 2010 on advertising; i. e. spending taxpayer money to convince students to sign up for internet classes, funded by taxpayer money.  (Repeat cycle until taxpayers get too dizzy.)

31,650,000:  Value in dollars, added incentives not included, of 8-year contract signed by John Calipari in 2009 to coach the University of Kentucky men's basketball team.  Ironically, schools where Calipari coached previously were twice forced to forfeit games due to NCAA rules violations.  Memphis forfeited its entire 2007-08 season (38 wins) after investigators discovered that at least one star player, reportedly guard Derrick Rose, and probably two, had other students take the SAT tests for them.

Could it be that we have a social problem in this country, not really a school problem?

As I. F. Stone once noted, "There are countries in which the ignorant have respect for learning.  This is not one of them."


  1. I do understand that teachers can not be expected to correct all of society's failings. However, no child can succeed without someone holding that belief of them. It is of the utmost importance that teachers believe their students can learn and succeed; because in that regard, they are the authority. Perhaps it is the most difficult task a teacher is tasked with (apologies for redundancy), but it is something in which they must not fail. The belief that some students are born hopeless... that failure of belief translates to student failure.

    Perhaps I am mistaken in your post, but it sounds as though you don't feel the American school system needs reform? Or are you blaming the students for our crappy public schools? Are you saying there are no "bad apple" teachers? I am confused by the points you are attempting to make...

    By the numbers:
    0: Are you implying that all individual countries have the same causes and solutions to global economic problems? Also, confused on your use of quotes when using the word "superior" to refer to a country that ranked #5 in reading, #4 in math, and #2 in science.
    1: Fail to see the relevance.
    1.8: Fairly certain no critic said it's ALL the public school systems fault for our economic problems - citation needed.
    4.4: Socialism is the solution? Or are you just blaming poor students?
    5:42: Yes, too many people watch too much t.v.
    6: citation needed.
    8: Brazil is a developing economy... The GDP per capita is $10,400 compared to the US of $47,000. They have much more room to grow and are not a valid comparison. (CIA World Factbook)
    10: There is no hope for 10% of Ohio children?
    12: Are they ranking reading in English or each country's native language? And on your previous premise, this would account for Iceland's failed economy? Lastly, there is a Polish joke in here somewhere, perhaps something about them only being as smart as Americans?
    14+: I blame low test scores on the teaching SYSTEM, of which teachers are a part. I blame low test scores on their unions manipulating the system to keep the status quo. I blame society for indifference, apathy, and lack of critical thinking ability.
    15: Drugs are bad, eUhmmm-Kay?
    17: I don't think our current ranking is as much a caveat as our trend toward lower comparative scores. Applies to 18 as well.
    33: Uhm, what?
    I am done.

  2. Rosselli,

    I think the author is suggesting is that it is hard to teach a kid whose mom was too high to make him dinner and help him with his homework last night...when the boyfriend got home they listened to loud music until two in the morning so the kid couldn't sleep. He got up in the morning two minutes before the bus came and couldn't find his mittens. He got to school, late, hungry, cold, and exhausted. Try teaching that kid anything.....

  3. I believe Chris is right. Rosselli is responding as if I'm laying out a legal brief. As a former teacher, I'm simpy trying to defend good teachers from unwarranted attack.

    Consider the dilemma teachers face in the higher grades, at least.

    No Child Left Behind "promises" that every child will be proficient in reading and math in two more years. If that includes all those who are using marijuana daily, I think we might be expecting teachers to perform miracles beyond the ability of mere mortals.

    Or: if we go back to an old post, where I mention the boy who missed 106 days of school in a single year...or the 140,000 New York City public school students who missed more than a month of classes in one point is simple.

    Much of what critics like to see as "school failure" (or blame on unions) is actually social failure.

    I've seen bad teachers in my day; and I don't ever mean to defend them. I do think, however, that if we asked our students to go to school 240 days a year, we could easily catch up to the Japanese; or if kids in this country were willing to put in the incredible hours South Korean kids do, we could catch them too.

    Unfortunately, my experience in a classroom tells me American parents aren't ready to ask for that kind of sacrifice at all.

    John J. Viall

    John J. Viall

  4. Thank you for the clarification. I apologize if I came off a bit abrasive and argumentative. I completely concur that the root cause is a social failure, but as a subset of our society, it is also a school system failure. I say that because it has so far been unable to implement higher quality school hours/days for those parents and students who do value their education. Not that all of them do, but it should be available for the people who care. And I think all students care, whether they know it yet or not.
    I started my public education in a poor Chicago neighborhood. I sincerely thank my parents for being adventurous enough (and lucky enough) to uproot their lives to move to a better place. I started middle school in a small Washington State school district where I had teachers that were also mentors and advisers. I do not blame teachers. For the most part, good teachers are as much a victim of our public school system as the children are.
    Families shouldn't have to move to find good educations for their children. Good teachers shouldn't have to struggle to find good students in a cattle call of classes. Most importantly, our youth shouldn't have to fear societies disregard and disdain for them based on situations/circumstances that are beyond their control.
    Let US not try to correct the mistakes made with America's youth, instead let us stop making those mistakes. I believe it is Bukowski who writes, "you begin saving the world by saving one man at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics".

  5. Roselli, I appreciate any fair dialogue (like yours), whether people agree or not.

  6. I am surprised that things were allowed to come to this stage. american international student centers tim martin.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. My apologies again; removing stupid advertisements from my blog (above).