A few years ago this column addressed issues of a failing public education system in the U.S. and the need to fix what author Martin Gross titled his book, "The Conspiracy of Ignorance." It is time to revisit this topic, which has grown worse and threatens the U.S. industrial base in ways that cannot be ignored. Consider these facts.
Tutoring is a $4 billion market, growing nearly 12% a year in America, and was formerly oriented toward remedial training. That trend seems to be shifting to children's education, a good thing for those saved from public school performance failure, but away from remediation. Industry has thrown up its hands in despair and is moving to foreign labor resources that are less costly and perform without added expenses of correcting what the public school system has failed to do. Evidence of this comes from analysis of income trends. Department of Commerce data show incomes are rising and gains are not in wages but are in bonuses, commissions and dividends for higher-end income earners.1 About 80% of hourly wage earners barely maintain purchasing power with raises averaging 2.7% versus a 2.5% inflation rate. Our economy depends on skilled workers, but U.S. high school seniors rank near the bottom of international world comparisons in math and science performance. And incidently, two-thirds of nearly 11,000 high school students surveyed reported to the National Governor's Association in July 2005 that they did not work hard enough in school and that teachers did not challenge them academically. Little wonder: statistically, teachers come from the bottom academic quintile before becoming "educators."
In a classic understatement when asked by Senate Banking Committee members in July 2005 about disparities in income and growing gaps, Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, said, "it is a reflection, as best I can judge, of a faulty education system;" a reversal of his statement: "I don't know the reason," to the Senate Finance Committee a month earlier. Melinda Gates, co-chairperson of a $26 billion education foundation with "MicroSoft Bill," says about high school systems: "They are failing to prepare people for college," and the vogue in schools toward "consumer math" makes students who "will struggle to make a living wage in the United States." The truth is that neither grade nor high schools are sufficiently rigorous. Parents are not doing their jobs to instill reverence for education, and there are ZERO ways out of the problem until the public accepts and understands that personal responsibility for the national problem is the only answer. Moreover, industry has a vested interest to invest in education for its own survival.
How to achieve reversal in public education system trends is an enormous task. As Gross explains, following are some MUST events: 1) close all "education" schools and require that teachers be graduates of colleges with a degree in a "field of study" (math, history or English) as only 1 in 8 teachers have such a degree; 2) remove 50% of "overhead" in public schools who are not teachers (administrators and counselors have grown in number in 45 years from 96,000 to 2.5 million nationwide) and use saved money to pay competent teachers instead of union workfare; 3) prohibit the existence of unions that masquerade as "professional associations;" and 4) separate federal, state and local interests into what they are and not what they claim to be. Schools are very "local." The Administration's "No Child Left Behind" law is feel good stuff, a ploy for political approval but in truth, schools in your backyard are a local responsibility and not that of government in Washington. Poor quality public school teaching ripples forward so that in the U.S., only 4,400 Ph.D. degrees were awarded last year, half going to foreign nationals, and only 17% of the American graduate degrees were in technical areas. The Business Roundtable, Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers have set a goal of doubling the number of bachelor degrees awarded in engineering, science and math by 2015, which would enhance the trend toward graduate school achievement. But that will never happen unless little kids in fourth grade really begin to learn their 3Rs.
This is a desperate, national calamity and the industrial sector has responsibilities to assist in problem correction.