Failing Marks

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The latest data have arrived on the progress of American educational reform, and they are as depressing as they are predictable. According to The Wall Street Journal (August 18), in this new world of the knowledge-based economy, the U.S. now ranks only 12th in the percentage of adults (aged 25–34) with a college degree. We are at 40.4%. Australia is at 40.7%, Belgium at 41.3, France at 41.4, Israel at 41.5, Norway at 42.7, Ireland at 43.9, and New Zealand at 47.3. At the top of the world rankings are Japan (53.7), South Korea (55.5), and Canada (55.8). The problem lies in our K-12 system — specifically, our high schools. These latest data show that less than a quarter of the 2010 high school grads who took the ACT have the academic skills to perform adequately in entry-level college courses. The ACT officials put the blame squarely on high schools. Of the students who took the ACT, 70% took the core high school courses theoretically needed to bring them up to entry college level (four years of English and three years each of math, social studies and science), but only 24% actually met the college-ready level on all four of the relevant ACT exams. That is, the kids who are passing the requisite classes are failing to master the requisite material. This strongly suggests that the high schools have either watered down the content of their courses or inflated their grades, or both. Susan Traiman of the Business Roundtable nailed it when she said that this amounts to “false advertising” by high schools. Indeed, it is, but most of them are public institutions, so they can’t be sued. Students and parents deceived by the education monopoly into thinking that the kids were prepared for college have no recourse. The taxpayers paid for a decent education, and the education complex ripped them off. Traiman draws the obvious conclusion — that if and when this recession ever ends, businesses will once again face shortages of sufficiently educated workers. On that score, there is no doubt.

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