Strong, powerful, influential. These uplifting words come to mind when we think about America’s military, economy, and cultural influence. Mediocre? Unfortunately, this is the proper adjective when describing another key aspect of the country—America’s primary and secondary education. According to one study conducted by PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the United States is below many countries in Asia and Europe when young students’ academic performance is concerned, in reading, science, and especially math.
Over the last several decades, many experiments have been conducted to tackle the problem: Moving to Opportunity (MTO), financial incentives offered to parents, monetary incentives given directly to students, providing home computers to poor families, the No Child Left Behind Act, etc. The list goes on, but the results are mixed, with some unsatisfactory while others provided reasons for optimism. Still, we are where we were at the turn of the century, trapped in the land of education mediocrity.
Is this because our schools are underfunded? Is it due to the wide gap in wealth distribution? Is it that America is still a nation of immigrants, many of whom fall into the low-income category? Is it because teachers are not well paid, so there is a shortage of good teachers? Or is it a cultural thing as we learn to favor sports over academics growing up?
This is a perplexing question and perhaps one to which there is no simple answer. It, however, deserves the closest attention, as today’s youth is the country’s future.