The National Academies report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” warns that unless we do something about our children’s deteriorating international standings in math and science, America’s going to lose what’s left of its technological edge. Only one-third of fourth and eighth graders in the United States, and less than twenty percent of twelfth graders, reached proficiency in math and science in 2005. It seems the No Child Left Behind Act forgot a few kids along the way.
Blame goes around easily enough, but solutions lag behind a lap or two. Parents blame the teachers; teachers blame home lives; many just blame the system itself. Our public educational facilities are out-of-date, overcrowded, and rampant with financial favoritism second grade go math. Part of the problem is uneven taxation: a percentage of public school funding is sourced from local property taxes. What happens, then, to schools supported by neighborhoods with low property values? This issue jumps in and out of the media spotlight, but in all actuality, it’s a chronic problem. Innumerable inner-city schools really are criminally, persistently deprived, while many suburban facilities are equipped with the latest and greatest. The questions surrounding racial bias, then, are only a short sidestep away. Areas of low property value are often inhabited by minorities, who, in turn, receive less school funding and suffer higher dropout rates. Those who complete fewer years of schooling tend to get stuck in lower income jobs, are unable to purchase higher priced properties, send their kids to the neighborhood (lower income) schools – and so the merry-go-round spins again.
Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the Indiana University School of Education, and a minority himself, believes educational equality is at the very foundation of today’s civil rights’ debates. Gonzalez heads a program that provides the largest number of teachers for Indiana schools and is the third largest provider of teachers for the United States.
“Education is the great equalizer in a democratic society, and if people are not given access to quality education, then what we are doing is creating an underclass of people who will ultimately challenge our very way of life,” said Gonzalez. “…I think the civil rights question of our nation today is that of access to a quality education. The lower class – many of whom are people of color – are disproportionately represented among drop-outs and…other social pathologies. The means by which those populations can have a chance to be successful and address some of their problems is through education. So we are talking about ensuring access to a quality education for all children.”
Declining mathematics scores are the ever-present culprits in the majority of these educational issues. America’s international academic standing is in jeopardy, in part, because of our children’s lack of understanding of what has been dubbed the “universal language” – yet another language, it seems, in which Americans aren’t even conversational.
Scoring low on a few math tests is just the beginning, however, for many of these children. Research conducted in 2005 by Johns Hopkins University and the Philadelphia Education Fund revealed that as many as half of all Philadelphia high school dropouts showed signs predicting their early departure from school as early as the sixth grade. Four factors were essential in forecasting these AWOL students: low attendance, poor behavior, failing math, and failing English grades. Other studies reveal that parents’ anxiety about math can dramatically affect their children’s success in the subject. Perhaps math homework should be mandated for everyone, of all ages, just to make sure we get back on par. Maybe, then, our grades would improve.
So if higher marks on the global school scale mean serious math homework, then it should also mean (Dare I say it?) more math help! Schools, parents, and the media are continually blasted for our children’s lackluster performances, but little in the way of practical solutions – or the funding to back them – are actually offered. Go on, Senator, kiss the babies, but what are you going to do when that kid fails his basic subjects because Congress didn’t pay enough attention to the parents’ groups? Classroom teachers can offer their assistance to a certain extent, but they have dozens, if not hundreds, to teach and many pupils find little help at home.