The link between education and business has never been more pronounced — unfortunately it’s not in a good way! Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with the conveyor belt, having employees remain in one station while the vehicles moved – and production time per automobile was dramatically reduced. For the past 20+ years our schools have placed our students on an educational conveyor belt – basically putting them on in the ninth grade and graduating them at the end of the 12th grade.
While Henry Ford increased production, efficiency and technical expertise, the high schools have managed to lower productivity (learning), efficiency (classroom conduct) and technical expertise (value of the teacher), all in the name of “better education”. What we, as a nation have done, is literally guaranteed every student a high school diploma the minute they are placed on the educational conveyor belt. Students really are very smart. They recognize the conveyor belt. They know they won’t fail and be held back a year – the current trend is for all students to graduate, regardless of the knowledge gained. Classroom courses are no longer taught at the highest level, to encourage students to reach their potential. Most are taught at the lowest level, to ensure no one is left behind. The result? Boredom for the brightest, assured passing for the mediocre and a continued lowering of the academic achievements of our students. And, unfortunately, higher teacher turn-over and lowered teacher morale.
Case in point: Last Tuesday, December 7th, the Program for International Student Assessment, based in Paris, carefully tested large sample groups of 15-year olds in 65 countries. “Stunningly, Asian students swept the top ranks in scores, Americans lagged well below”. The results: “Math: Shanghai and Singapore were supreme, while America was in 31st place”. ” Science: U.S. teens ranked 23rd, equaling Poland and some other European nations”. And the list goes on.
In my home state, West Virginia, our school system requires 180 days of instruction per year. In South Korea the school year is 225 days. In Japan it’s 220 days. In both, the school days are longer and usually with far more homework. Is it any wonder we’re falling behind!
During the Kennedy Presidency, in the wake of the Russian satellite “Sputnik”, he challenged our nation to retake the lead in science….to send a man to the moon, and to return safely, within the next ten years. This led to a major overhaul of our education pattern – and we succeeded.
In the past few months it has been my priviledge to present several talks on this topic. It’s not anti-education, nor it is anti-teachers. It is, rather, a wake-up call to hopefully call attention to the inequities we are placing on our students and, ultimately, on our nation. A strong and demanding educational program is the backbone of a thriving and prosperous country — but we have to play catch-up before we’re left too far behind.