US Schools Must Improve

Rich Tehrani : Communications and Technology Blog - Tehrani.com
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US Schools Must Improve

US high school students rank a disastrously low 25 out of 30 industrialized nations in math.

I have written before about how bad our school system is and how a country like Iran - where my family is from and a place I visited 30 years ago had a school system far more rigorous than the US. As a nine-year old kid I toured this country which at the time was filled with dirt roads, cars that ran for about a quarter of a mile before overheating, wandering wild animals, filthy swimming pools (apparently no one would trade oil for chlorine at the time) and a school system which forced my young cousins to do homework all day and night. How is it that this little dustbowl of a country put more effort into their future than the US does?

Perhaps the reason the US can fall so far behind in education and still be prosperous has to do with its reliance on well-educated and entrepreneurial immigrants and private school graduates to create new businesses and/or jobs.

This system has worked for years but now that we have global trade and the Internet and IP communications allow companies to hire the best workers regardless of country, US high school graduates and especially drop outs are really in trouble. President Obama can have a million job summits but no one will hire graduates of US schools when they can get better-skilled workers outside the country at a fraction of the cost.

The sad part is that the US government has watched our school systems deteriorate over the decades and instead of fixing the problem and making the workforce more valuable they have focused on things like hiking minimum wage. While this may seem the humane thing to do at first, in reality, companies look to automation and/or outsourcing to India or the Philippines before they hire US workers.

Has anyone else notice a disturbing trend in hiring bank tellers or supermarket cashiers? You guessed it, self-check out machines and ATMS continue to replace jobs once held by people.

At this point it may be worth seeing some facts regarding how bad Americans are at math:

  • Only 42 percent were able to pick out two items on a menu, add them, and calculate a tip.
  • Only 1 in 5 could reliably calculate mortgage interest.
  • 1 in 5 could not calculate weekly salary when told an hourly pay rate.
  • Only 13 percent were deemed "proficient." Worse yet, only 1 in 10 women, 1 in 25 Hispanics and 1 in 50 African Americans made the grade.
  • Americans are terrified of numbers when it counts most: 20 million Americans pay someone to file their 1040EZ, a one-page tax form with around 10 blanks to fill out.
  • Half of 17 year olds couldn't do enough math to work in an auto plant, according to President's National Mathematics Advisory Panel.
  • Study after study shows U.S. achievement falls off the cliff during middle school, when subjects like fractions and percentages are introduced -- exactly the skills you need as a consumer or, for that matter, to move on to algebra, calculus and advanced sciences.

Here are some stats on how bad our teachers are:

  • In 18 U.S. states, not even one elementary math class is required for certification.
  • Some teaching colleges allow admittance as long as students have math skills equal to their future students -- that is, as long as they could pass a 5th grade math test.
  • It's possible in some states to pass the teacher certification exam (Praxis) without answering a single math question correctly.
  • In Massachusetts, there's a special program to reacquaint teachers with math. The man who runs the program says half of teachers can't answer basic questions involving fractions and has concluded that many elementary teachers are "phobic" about math.
  • Teachers seem to be math-averse from the start. College bound seniors headed for elementary education have math SAT scores significantly lower than the national average (483 vs. 515).

In case you wonder why many politicians and anyone who can afford to do so sends their kids to private schools, this is the reason. The government has really let US citizens down and education is a basic service which we should expect to be done well. If third world wannabe countries can figure out how to educate students, why can't we?

Here are some solutions to this major problem:

  1. Get parents (even single parents) to understand how bad the problem is and encourage their kids to turn off the Kardashians and open a book.
  2. If you are out of work and aren't on the street, get off Facebook and stop playing video games and go online to high school/university courses which in many cases are offered for free. Improve your math and reading skills immediately.
  3. Our government should continue to allow highly skilled immigrants into the US and try to get them to start new companies to help our economy grow.
  4. Allow for multiyear apprenticeships at some low wage like $1/hour or whatever makes sense. It works in Germany.
  5. Right now a company can get all the college students they want as interns for free and the government wonders why these same companies aren't in a rush to hire partially literate high-school graduates for $8.25/hour in a state like Illinois? Remember, the company first has to educate and train these workers and make a significant investment before seeing a return. We need to get corporations to consider hiring more Americans now.
  6. Attack and restructure the school system. Start from scratch. Get rid of all problems like tenure and impediments to a free market system which allows teachers to compete to be best. Reward the best teachers with the most money, awards and national recognition.
  7. While we are at it, improve teacher pay because if we want the best and brightest teaching our kids let's ensure they can afford to take the job.
  8. Increase the number of math and science courses each day as I first suggested on March 2nd of 2008.
  9. Give tax credits to parents who choose to send their kids to private schools and subsequently bypass the disaster the government has made of the US education system.
  10. Why punish parents for sending kids to private schools so they can more effectively compete against citizens of countries that have better and free education systems?

While US students fall further behind in science and math, the government seems to have a singular focus on healthcare and not education. And this my fellow Americans just doesn't add up.

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