WATERTOWN — The public education system in the United States is not an example of American exceptionalism.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administers the Program for International Student Assessment. Reviewing the results of testing from the past few years makes it clear that U.S. students are not receiving the quality of education that they should.
“The U.S. placed 11th out of 79 countries in science when the test was last administered in 2018. It did much worse in math, ranking 30th. The U.S. scored 478 in math, below the OECD average of 489. That’s well below the scores of the top five, all of which were in Asia: Singapore: (569), Macao: (555), Hong Kong (551), Taiwan (531), Japan (527),” according to a March 26 article published by The Balance, a website dedicated to helping people understand personal finances. “China was not included in this ranking because only four provinces participated. The United States scored 502 in science, above the OECD average of 489. The top five highest scorers in science were: Singapore (551), Macao (544), Estonia (530), Japan (529), Finland (522). It’s clear when analyzing the U.S. results that the scores have been stable over time. They’re not declining, but there aren’t any signs of improvement, either. There’s been no detectable change in U.S. students’ math scores since 2003 or in science scores since 2006. These low scores mean that U.S. students may not be as prepared to take high-paying computer and engineering jobs, which often go to foreign workers. Silicon Valley is America’s high-tech innovation center but one reason for its success is the cultural diversity of its foreign-born software engineers. Many companies simply outsource their tech jobs overseas, but the result is the same: There are fewer high-paying jobs going to American citizens because they may not be qualified. Eric A. Hanushek, an economist from the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, estimated that the U.S. economy would grow 4.5% in 20 years if our students’ math and science skills were as strong as those of the rest of the world. But this statement would likely come as a shock to many Americans who believe that our students’ skills are already among the best in the world.”
Assessments conducted across the country last year showed troubling declines in math and reading. Much of this was attributed to problems caused by the novel coronavirus the two previous years.
“In math, the results were especially devastating, representing the steepest declines ever recorded on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, which tests a broad sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders and dates to the early 1990s. In the test’s first results since the pandemic began, math scores for eighth-graders fell in nearly every state. A meager 26% of eighth-graders were proficient, down from 34% in 2019. Fourth-graders fared only slightly better, with declines in 41 states. Just 36% of fourth-graders were proficient in math, down from 41%,” according to a story published Oct. 24 by The New York Times. “Reading scores also declined in more than half the states, continuing a downward trend that had begun even before the pandemic. No state showed sizable improvement in reading. And only about one in three students met proficiency standards, a designation that means students have demonstrated competency and are on track for future success. And for the country’s most vulnerable students, the pandemic has left them even further behind. The drops in their test scores were often more pronounced, and their climbs to proficiency are now that much more daunting.”
One of the typical excuses is that public education is underfunded. If a lack of money were the primary reason for academic anemia, we would see this demonstrated in the statistics.
But the problem is that we don’t, at least where the Empire State is concerned. No state spends more per pupil than New York does, which is allocating $24,040 per student in 2023, according to World Population Review. If more dollars meant higher achievement, New York would rank at the top in performance overall — but it doesn’t.
World Population Review reports that New York’s public education system ranks 14th in the nation this year. This is certainly not the worst, but it’s not the best either. So the state is spending all that money per student to achieve mediocrity. We can do better.
There are obviously aspects of public education that require substantially more money. However, there’s no proof that pouring additional funds into the system will improve its academic performance.
This fact, though, isn’t stopping those in Albany from continuing their trend. The fiscal year 2024 budget allocated $34.5 billion in education funding, the highest level of level of state aid ever. Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul patted her fellow Democrats on the back for this milestone.
“All New Yorkers deserve access to a high-quality education, from pre-kindergarten through their college graduation,” Hochul said in a news release issued May 3. “Thanks to the help of Majority Leader [Andrea] Stewart-Cousins and Speaker [Carl] Heastie, this unprecedented level of transformational investments will open new doors for more students to build a brighter future for themselves and gain the skills needed for the jobs of the future.”
How much this will do for students remains to be seen. One avenue that families have for a potentially better education for their children is selecting a charter school.
The FY 2024 budget reissued 22 charters that were originally issued to charters schools that have since closed. This will see 14 charter schools open in New York City and eight charter schools in the remainder of the state. There are about 360 charter schools in New York.
If the state opted to expand the number of charter schools it permitted, this prospect for students could be even better. The best course of action would be to start a school voucher program to allow parents to use some of the money they provide to failing school districts to send their children to schools with better results.
“School choice programs save money for both school districts and taxpayers, increase parental satisfaction and are associated with academic gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card,” according to a story published Jan. 27 by the Empire Center for Public Policy in Albany. “Perhaps most notably, school choice programs have been found to improve outcomes for all students — that is, even those who remain in residentially assigned public schools.”
Families need a way to let their children escape from schools that do not perform well. But state officials have blocked their path, ensuring a dimmer future for many students.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may send emails to email@example.com.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.