Why Johnny still can't read...

I heard the news and I was not surprised.

The academic ranking of the United States is slipping – which is putting it mildly.  The folks who spend their time measuring such things put the United States somewhere in middle of the pack.  The same pack that we, so they say, once led.

Not anymore.  At the top of the heap are South Korea and Finland.  The U.S.?  According to the study, attributed to “education firm Pearson” ranks 17th out of 20.  Several Asian educational systems, including those in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, rank in the top 10.  Others that outrank the United States including New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada.

While this news is seen as a “big story”, it is not.  Similar studies have found the same thing.

And what has been done about it – and what can be done about it?

Education has long been a pet project of the folks in the nation’s capital – No Child Left Behind and now the development of the “common core” proliferate educational initiatives.  Hillary Clinton wrote more than a few years ago that “It Takes a Village” – and it probably does.  But what has happened to that village?  More specifically, who are the village elders putting their trust in?

Teachers?  School board members?  Administrators?  All of the aforementioned?

How about U.S. News and World Reports?

It could be a mixture of all of them, but it seems that more and more school district and building administrators are under the pressure, or putting themselves under pressure, to quantify everything they do in the classroom.  How many Ds and Fs are being issued, how many students are taking Advanced Placement Class, how many are take the AP test and how many are passing the AP test?

Education has become locked into the quantitative and not the qualitative aspects of teaching.  If schools can boost their AP enrollment, bravo.  If the ACT score are higher, bravo.  But what about Johnny, why can’t he read?  Because too many administrators have become narcissistic and are worried more about their reputation and not the student’s future. They are so focused only on “teaching to the test”, that fundamental skills are fading away.  One teacher tells me that units focusing on literature are dropped in favor of more units on grammar.

Don’t get me wrong, students need to understand grammar fundamentals.  However, students also need to be able to critically think by using strong reading and analytical skills.  Unfortunately, there’s no test for that. As mentioned, the focus has become black and white – it’s right or wrong.  For the student who wants to see things differently, he/she is just out of luck.  They’ll have to wait until college to think “outside the box”.

Unless, of course, they take AP classes – the new measuring stick of success.  Sign up, take the class, pluck down $80-plus for a test, and you’re a hero.  A student may not be prepared for post high school life, but by gosh they’ll have the AP experience.

As is the case with one student I know.  The student was failing three of five classes and had a D in the fourth.  But the student got to take AP art because he “liked art”.

Makes sense, right?  Life is all about doing only what we like.

Reality, what a concept.  Let’s hope school administrators get a taste of reality.

And it better be sooner rather than later.

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