Columns, Opinion

RYAN: America is a “C” student

By pretty much any reasonable definition, I am a successful product of the U.S. educational system. I may not have gotten into an Ivy League school, but I still did well. At a school like Boston University, I’m not alone. For the most part, we were all successful (and sleep-deprived) in and out of the classroom before college. However, let me remind you that we are definitely the exception in this nation, not the rule.

The fact of the matter is that although the United States may have a small percentage of students who are above average and meeting standards, a far greater percentage have fallen through the cracks. When comparing our situation to the international community, it’s clear that we need to reform our education system now.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results Tuesday. The exam was administered to 15 year olds in 65 different countries every three years and showed some alarming trends for U.S. students. The test measures competence in three key subject areas: math, science and reading. In all three, American high schoolers scored around or below the world average.

In math, the United States scored 13 points below the average of 494. In reading, students scored two points above the international average of 496, and in science, they scored four points below the average of 501. The last two scores (reading and science) were categorized as “average” statistically and in math, students qualified as below average.

Just for a brief comparison, Shanghai, China earned top marks in all three categories with scores of 613, 570 and 580 in math, reading and science, respectively.

Enough with the numbers. What I’m trying to convey is that the future of the American economy is simply passing at this point. We’re “C” students at best, except in math, where we did poorly even though we could use calculators! This doesn’t bode well for our economic development or scientific advances. The only solution is to change how we educate kids because this just isn’t going to cut it.

One of the major issues with the U.S. education system is the disparity in school district funding. Schools are funded by state and national cash, but also by property tax revenue in the district. This means schools in Beverly Hills, Calif. are going to have a lot more money to invest than a school in Compton, Calif.. Throwing money at the problem does not actually garner a solution. However, targeted spending in teacher salary, technology and educational resources like textbooks and tutoring all give the students in the 90210 an advantage over others who’s families can barely make rent.

A giant (and perhaps overreaching and unconstitutional) step would be to nationalize the education system and distribute all funds equally, every socialist’s dream. However, schools that were behind before would stay behind. They wouldn’t have the opportunity to catch up to schools that had been outspending them for decades.

Now what you may be thinking is, “But wait, Sara! What if the poor schools received more money than the rich schools until they caught up?” Excellent question, my dear reader! This is a great idea in principle, but practically it’s a little difficult. The only way to measure “caught up” would be with standardized test scores, which as anyone who’s ever taken the SAT will tell you, is not an accurate reflection of knowledge or intelligence.

Unfortunately, this is probably the best option we have within the current system. Unless we want to throw (almost) every educational principle out the window, there’s not much we can do, except to better allocate our resources and hope for the best.

However, an even more radical and definitely more difficult to implement solution would be to change how we think about education, both in this country and internationally. Here’s the part of my article that is going to get hippy-dippy. Don’t continue reading if you’re afraid of love beads and Bob Dylan.

Honestly, we need to stop looking at education as a competition. Class ranks, PISA scores and the billion other ways we tell kids they’re stupider than everybody else don’t help. Education should foster a love of knowledge and encourage children to find passions. In order to make this change, everyone from parents all the way up to the U.S. Secretary of Education need to motivate students in new ways and build an educational system to fit.

I am by no means an expert in education, but as someone who has experienced 15 or so years of it, I’m definitely a survivor of the system. We can’t allow kids to keep falling through the cracks because their SAT scores aren’t high enough. Instead, we need to help them seek out their passions. At that point, maybe being an “average” country won’t be the worst thing in the world because education is about cooperation, not competition.

Sara Ryan is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences studying political science and math. She can be reached at [email protected].


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