Why You Should Care About the Declining State of U.S. Education

The vast majority— 76% — of American parents think their children are getting a good education, a national survey conducted by the Associated Press reveals. But recent reports comparing U.S. education to education in 39 other industrialized countries show that they’re wrong.Kids-going-back-to-schoolStudents in 19 countries score higher than we do in reading, students in 22 countries score higher than we do in science, and students in an alarming 29 countries score higher than we do in math, according to the latest Program for International Assessment (PISA) This puts us, the richest country in the world, in the bottom half of all industrialized countries in all three subjects.Yet while nearly every other country increased its expenditures on education between 2008 and 2011, the United States cut its education spending!The long-term effects of the eroding quality of American education are equally disturbing. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in a study of 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 in 24 countries, found that the United States ranked near the middle in literacy and near the bottom in skills with numbers and technology.Most of us assume that each generation will achieve higher levels of education than the last. While that is true for half the countries in the OECD study, it isn’t true for the U.S. In our country, a larger-than-average proportion — about 25% — of young people have less education than their parents, so instead of being upwardly mobile, they’re moving down.What’s more, among young Americans whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, the OECD study shows, only 5% make it through college themselves. In other rich countries, the figure is 23%.The United States used to have the largest percentage of adults with a college education. Now we have dropped to fifth in the OECD rankings. And it looks as though we are going to drop further behind in the future, because among 25-to-34-year-olds, we rank twelfth.Our greatest failure, however, is in early education. Across all 39 of the OECD countries, an average of 70% of 3-year-olds are enrolled in education programs. In the United States, it’s 38%.Our egalitarian mass educational system is what made us the richest country in the world, two Harvard researchers convincingly assert. It is not surprising then, that rising income inequality in the country has run parallel with the declining quality of our public schools.These problems are compounded by the way in which U.S. education is financed. Our public schools depend on local property taxes. This means that rich communities get good schools while low-to-moderate income communities get poorer ones. This perpetuates the education and income gap. As Nicholas Kristoff observed in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, “Too often, America’s education system amplifies not opportunity but inequality.”Improving the quality of American education is vital to the future success and well being of our country. In the coming election, find out how your elected representatives stand on this crucial issue and vote accordingly!