3 Unusual Statistics about the U.S. Educational System

As a former public school educator, and someone who watches public school policy closely, I believe the K-12 system here in America is on its way up. I see improvements as schools raise accountability standards, offer more social services, and focus more intently on high school graduation and college prep. Our schools are better preparing students academically and for productive lives.

But it is not that simple. The statistics and research I’ve reviewed over the past few years show mixed results when it comes to the educational system. I will discuss three unusual—even contradictory—facts in this article.

  1. Parents with children in the public school system are happy with the education system…but the general public is not.

Nearly half of American adults are pleased with the operation of the K-12 public school system in the nation. A recently released Gallup poll finds that 48 percent of Americans say they are “somewhat” or “completely” satisfied with the public K-12 system in the U.S. The poll has been conducted since 1999 and that highest satisfaction rating in this category was 53 percent in 2004.

Respondents with children who are actually in the public school system currently showed higher levels of satisfaction (57 percent) with the system than adults as a collective group. Parents who answered how satisfied they were with just their oldest child’s education were at almost 75 percent.

The fact that many parents in the poll responded positively to public schools and members of the general public responded negatively was labeled an “optimism gap” by the Gallup poll staff.

The results of this poll tell me two things: One, American confidence in the public school system has a ways to go to reassure the general population that it is doing its job; and two, that those who actually interact with the public schools are less influenced by things like news stories when it comes to shaping their personal opinions.

  1. 80 percent of students are graduating high school…yet less than half of these students are ready for what’s next.

The U.S. Education Department reports that the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high at 80 percent.  Four out of five students are successful in studies completion and graduate within four years. While these statistics sound like a reason for a standing ovation, they are overshadowed by the crisis that is sweeping the United States. While 80 percent of high school seniors receive a diploma, less than half of those are able to proficiently read or complete math problems.

The problem is that students are being passed on to the next grade when they should be held back, and then they are unable to complete grade-level work and keep up with their classmates.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest standardized test administered in the United States, reports that fewer than 40 percent of graduating seniors have mastered reading and math and are poorly equipped for college and real world life.  These students who are passed to the next grade are at a serious disadvantage and have an increased chance of falling behind and dropping out of college.

  1. We spend trillions of dollars on education…but we have not seen any improvement in public schools since 2009.

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress has some shocking news: since 2009, there has been no improvement in math and reading performance among our nation’s high school seniors.  Despite the trillions of dollars we have hurdled into our schools, our students aren’t better off in those subjects.

How can that be? It seems to me that the problem lies in that we simply teach to the test.  We train thousands of students to learn a few of the “core” subjects so they score well on tests – but that doesn’t really make the students better educated. Higher test scores in any subject does not mean these young adults are smarter. Think about the utterly essential part of success: learning how to write well.  This is a prime example of a subject that no multiple-choice test can measure.

To really learn, students must have the thirst to drink from the fountain of knowledge.  They must feel compelled to understand problems and have the urge to find the solution, even if that means they answer incorrectly.  Yes, the core subjects are important for students to learn – but let’s not forget about literature, music and the arts – and the other subjects that help teach students to explore.

What the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress tells us is alarming. How have ten years passed, and these trillions of dollars not rendered any improvement in math and reading performance among high school seniors?

There are some schools out there that are taking a better approach at teaching today’s diverse student population but so much more needs to be done. What public education needs is the ability to implement more practical models of teaching to guide students instead of following master plans devised to ensure students test well.


Choose your Reaction!