'Education Is Failing Our Children -- Just Look at the
by Dr. John E.
Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
The title of this column is from a recent statement by a
U.S. senator. Politicians can always find fault with education. Every
election cycle brings a new wave of criticism. Itís fashionable for the
political establishment to point out perceived failures, and almost all
politicians say they are going to fix the problems. Yet as the years pass,
it seems that few problems ever get ďfixed.Ē The school dropout rate is one
How could anyone think education alone is to blame for the
school dropout rate? Just look at the demographics. In the largest 50 city
schools the graduation rate is 58 percent. Seventeen of the large city
schools have graduation rates of less than 50 percent. Suburban communities
have significantly better graduation rates, but even the best schools have
approximately one in five students who fails to receive a diploma.
Nationally, one of every three students fails to graduate.
To think that simply making programmatic changes in the educational
offerings will totally solve the dropout problem is naive. I do believe that
the current trend of requiring more so-called academic courses can
contribute to the problem; but in general, our education system is pretty
To correct a problem, a cause must be identified. First
and foremost, a student must be able to complete the work. Some students
just donít have it. Through no fault of their own, they donít have the
ability to succeed in a traditional academic environment. Weíve made great
progress in meeting the needs of these students, but some still fall through
the cracks. The students who are really neglected are not the ones who have
major learning disabilities or are gifted and talented. Often, the average
kids are the ones who are neglected.
One challenge is finding ways to assist students who come
from disadvantaged homes. Ultimately, a childís desire to learn is nurtured
at home. Parents are more important than teachers. They are the true
teachers of all the skills needed to succeed in life. The schools only
assist in this development process. If education has failed, itís usually
because the parents have also failed.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Meet the
Press that education is the key to the United States maintaining its
competitive edge in a global economy. He went on to talk about
responsibility, effort, teamwork, honesty and dedication. He never said that
students should all have advanced algebra and other intellectual courses.
Heís right on target.
Our current economic problems were caused by the most
highly educated members of our society. They implemented practices in the
financial markets that brought us to where we are. Our highly educated
politicians also contributed to our dilemma. Factory workers probably had
little to do with creating current economic conditions, although they too
should always have the desire to build the best products and provide the
best services. We should respect those who, like my dad (who worked in a
coal mine), work at less glamorous but vitally important jobs. As a society
we must recapture an appreciation for all workers, for everyone who
contributes to our progress and well-being.
I know that our public school graduates can answer a phone
with the same proficiency as those of foreign countries. The reason that
foreign countries are providing these services has nothing to do with
education and everything to do with cost of labor.
The current trend of making public-school education more
preparation for college is just wrong. What if we were able to achieve the
goal of having every student graduate with the necessary courses, grades,
and test scores required for college? The colleges would then have to select
students according to other criteria, which probably would be more
qualitative, like personality, enthusiasm, desire and similar traits. As a
society we just donít need everyone to have a college education.
The recession has taught us many lessons. If jobs arenít
available, it doesnít matter if you have a degree or you are a school
dropout ó unemployment has the same effect. When schools offer a wide
variety of programs that reflect the needs of all society, they add credence
to all occupations. They also offer more opportunities for students to
succeed. Educators need to rethink the current trend. Maybe 12 years of
college-prep education isnít for everyone. Some students may be better off
leaving school and entering a work environment; but for this to happen there
must be jobs and parallel learning opportunities.
Education needs major surgery, not just a band-aid
approach requiring more traditional courses or improving standardized test
scores. The ultimate goal of attending college is to get a job. There is no
dignity in unemployment, even if you have a doctorate. The traditional
liberal-arts approach is no longer valid. Just think of all the courses you
took in high school or college. Which ones contributed significantly to your
Schools are deleting art, music, technical, physical
education, and other courses so students can take more college-prep courses
like math, foreign language, and creative writing. In my opinion this is a
major mistake. To meet the goal of having more students graduate will
require a more flexible curriculum that centers on individual student needs,
rather than college-entrance requirements. If students do drop out and enter
the world of work, programs should be available to help them continue their
formal education. Education doesnít begin in kindergarten or end with
high-school graduation. Itís a lifelong process.
I just listened to a radio commentator criticize students
because only 50 percent could calculate the amount of a meal tip. If thatís
a math skill students need, perhaps schools should spend time teaching basic
math instead of requiring theoretical math.
The message educators and politicians alike should be
sending is, stay in school until you are sure you have the skill to get a
Then, letís hope that our business and political leaders
have the skill and integrity to develop an economy that produces employment