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Are U.S. Students Really Ready to Compete?

As the Washington Post’s Matt Miller puts it, the gig is up.
Research published by Harvard’s Kennedy School gives us the horrible
truth. And the answer to my question is a big fat NO! Not if only 32% of
our students are proficient in math. And if American business and the
public don’t act to do something about our mediocre public schools, our
nation is going to be in deep trouble. Is this really merely a
marshalling of alarmist statistics? Read on. . . .

It’s not just minority children. While the 42% math proficiency
for U.S. white students is much higher than the averages for students
from African America and Hispanic backgrounds, U. S. white students are
still surpassed by all students in 16 other countries.

Matt Miller doesn’t miss a beat when he starts out with a quote from
Rick Perry, and then interprets reality afterward. Perry says, “If we
put our minds to it, there’s nothing we can’t do together as Americans.”
Miller continues Perry’s declarative with, “Why, if we really apply
ourselves over the next 10 or 20 years, we can have schools as good as
those in Estonia or Slovenia.”

Still, let’s not kid ourselves, this is a profoundly difficult,
complex and highly nuanced problem that won’t respond to political
talking points.

How important are math scores?

It’s not just reading ability, it’s also math. The core technological
underpinnings of an advanced society are all math subjects: science,
technology, engineering and math—the so-called STEM disciplines.

Who does this impact?

It’s easy for me to say that I don’t have any skin in this game. We
have the family resources to take care of the education of my
grandchildren. But that’s shortsighted. Without young adults capable of
managing the technological needs of business, industry will go elsewhere
to fill its people needs. The problem is already showing up in that
American companies have skilled job openings that they are unable to
fill. Ultimately, the problem will impact the majority of Americans. As
Miller comments in an aside, if we don’t demand more than the usual
pabulum from our leaders, the American middle class cannot be saved.

How do we resolve the issue?

As I commented earlier, this is not a problem that lends itself to
easy or ready solutions. The leadership and funding will have to come
from the people and the legislators of our institutions. Poor families
know that their kids are getting the shaft, and the middle class is
starting to learn the same. Thus far, they both lack the clout to demand
and pay for better teachers and facilities. Here’s Miller’s antidote:

In the early GOP primary and caucus
states, we need parents, educators, CEOs, labor leaders, foundations and
the press to come together to trumpet this report’s findings and use
them to elevate the issue through high-profile events, special education
debates, candidate report cards and everything else they can think
of—including creative heckling. Get students themselves to ask
candidates why Estonian math scores seem beyond our reach. It’s scary
but true: If we don’t demand much more than the usual pabulum on schools
from those seeking to lead us, America’s middle class is going the way
of the dodo.

I doubt that Miller fully understands the role of creative heckling.
Those of us from the field of rhetoric have an in-depth knowledge of
social campaigns and their development. What all of the studies show is
that “creative heckling” is a key factor in successful campaigns. That’s
true for women’s suffrage, the feminist movement for equal rights, the
Black civil rights movements as well as the anti-Vietnam War campaigns.
Creative heckling is usually one of the first steps of a long term
challenge to the establishment. But inevitably, it will have a
significant role in the changing of the American educational narrative.
So who’s going to rise to that challenge?

For further info:

Kennedy School report: Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?

Matt Miller: Treason on Schools.

Don Peck: The Atlantic, Can the Middle Class Be Saved?

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, Christian Science Monitor, Can US Compete if only 32 percent of students are proficient in math?

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