JWR Eric BreindelMona CharenLinda Chavez
Jacob SullumJonathan S. TobinThomas Sowell
Robert ScheerDon FederRoger Simon
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / February 27, 1998 / 1 Adar (Rosh Chodesh), 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Dumb and Dumber

THE GOOD NEWS to emerge from the latest international comparison of high school students is: We outperformed South Africa and Cyprus. The bad news is that we were close to the bottom of the 21 nations participating in the test.

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study measured the proficiency of high school seniors, and Americans performed dismally. Our students scored below those of Western Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Russia and Slovenia. The Asian nations, which leave our kids in the dust on tests of fourth-grade proficiency, mercifully chose not to participate in this survey.

The test results were greeted by the usual expressions of concern by business groups and excuse-making by the educational establishment. Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, announced that this study is "a wake-up call for us to change the culture in the classroom."

Well, if so, it will have to be amplified one-thousandfold to disturb the deep slumber of this nation on the subject of education. It has been 15 years since we were declared a Nation at Risk because of our falling educational standards, but nothing has changed. Instead, the appalling dumbing down of the curriculum proceeds uninterrupted.

The American education system is a joke, and for proof, just check the Internet. Here's one mordant commentary making the rounds:

"Teaching math in 1950: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

"Teaching math in 1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price or $80. What is his profit?

"Teaching math in 1970: A logger exchanges a set "L" of lumber for a set "M" of money. The cardinality of set "M" is 100. Each element is worth $1. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set "M." ... Represent the set "C" as a subset of set "M" and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set "P" or profits?

"Teaching math in 1980: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80, and his profit is $20. Underline the number 20.

"Teaching math in 1990: By cutting down the beautiful forest, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living?"

Exaggeration? Not by much. In the third grade in the Virginia suburbs, children who have not yet studied the planet they live on are asked to "design a planet." That is what passes for science education. When parents complain to the powers that be, the giant school bureaucracy, they are swished away as a horse removes flies with his tail.

The data from this international comparison illuminate several damning things about our education system. First, the longer our kids are in school, the worse they perform. Second, even the very elite of our public high school students, those who take advanced courses like calculus and physics, scored below all other nations participating. And most Americans do not even take the courses that will prepare them for the advanced technological age we have entered. Seventy-nine percent of students from the other countries participating take math in their senior year of high school. Only 66 percent of Americans do. Sixty-seven percent of the international sample take science as seniors. Only 53 percent of Americans do.

Sure, there are problems outside of the classroom that affect student performance. Broken families, chaotic home environments and after-school jobs all contribute to fewer hours spent studying by American high school students than those of other nations. Americans are three times as likely to work three or more hours at after-school and weekend jobs as foreign students. That, along with TV watching, decreases the available time for homework. Americans devote an average of 1.7 hours per day studying compared with 2.6 hours among the students of other nations.

But the chief culprit in this story is the creaky, overweight and exhausted educational establishment that devotes its most ferocious energy not to teaching kids but to fighting reform. If this survey doesn't persuade parents that dramatic reform is necessary, what will?


2/24/98: Reagan reduced poverty more than Clinton
2/20/98: Rally Round the United Nations?
2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.