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Are Our Students the Dumbest in the World?

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Last week, NPR had a story about how “dumb” our students are, compared to those in other countries. The story title said that our high school graduates are on par with high school dropouts elsewhere on international tests.

 

For myself, I always wonder how critics can say in one breath that we live in the greatest nation in the world, and in the next breath say that we have the worst schools and dumbest students in the world. This bizarre logic then leads to the rephormer claim that we must cut the budget for public schools and push for the transfer of funds to religious schools (not known for teaching STEM simubjects) or to brand-new charters run by corporations or amateurs. You might think that only a knucklehead could believe in such truly foolish ideas but our major foundations–Gates, Walton, Broad, Arnold, Helmsley, and others–relentlessly push this line of baloney.

 

One reader referred to the story and blamed “bad” teachers. Another reader who is both teacher and parent, responded here:

 

 

“Let me give you a different perspective, assuming you are willing to listen.
“All schools are not “failing.” I worked years in industry (high tech) and can assure you, on a aggregate level, America’s graduates far exceed the capability of most other countries. I can’t count the number of H1bs I hired that, while good employees, lacked the adaptability and critical thinking required to solve problems. In those countries that ARE on par with us, they support their schools, respect and value teachers, and believe in both a strong college OR vocational pathway. Are some schools “failing”? Sure, but the reasons rarely have to do with teacher competence.
“Now I teach math. So you are free to blame us evil math teachers for your child’s struggle. I’ve heard it all before. Here’s the reality. I teach students who are “high risk” in math. Often, I battle a accumulation of years of external issues – poverty, health problems, learning challenges, disinterested parents, violence, drugs, mental health – the list goes on. I have never abandoned a student, but many parents have. Politicians blame teachers, but then cut social programs, employment opportunities, and health programs. Business complains, but then wiggles out of financially supporting schools, ships good jobs overseas, and pushes job training onto schools. Keep in mind, too, that k-12 works to retain and teach ALL students. Post secondary operates by screening out and eliminating students. Very different missions.
“The students do lack various math skills. I see seniors unable to add fractions trying to solve trig problems. One common thread in math illiteracy is these students are reluctant learners and avoid math. Math is not sesame street. It takes careful study and practice. I can make it “entertaining” and I’ll try my best with a 150+ student roster to “differentiate” and individually reach out to each student, but America does not want great teachers, only inexpensive ones.

 

 

“I am also a parent of a struggling student. Unlike you, I took responsibility from kindergarten for his learning. I followed his progress and alphabet soup of diagnoses. I didn’t just sit back and blame teachers, I actively worked with teachers. I learned about new subjects to help him through school. I reached out and showed interest. I even lost a job focusing on my kids’ well being. Were all teachers perfect? No, they are human. But I made it work. My kid is going to college. He still struggles, but the journey doesn’t end with some kids when they become adults. Think before unfairly indicting a profession.

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