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EducationNation right here at home

NBC Television News focused its attention on the state of elementary and secondary education in America this week. Dubbing the week’s events Education Nation, the network is airing town hall meetings, expert panels, interviews with politicians, including President Obama, General Colin Powell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. There was even room for talk to real live students and educators.  Americans can look up their local school and see where it stands compared to the rest of the state on the NBC Scorecard website.

Mostly what NBC is telling us is bad news:

*An average of 7,000 American students drop out of school every day. Experts agree that keeping schools in school can help save billions in health care and crime, and prepare the next generation for jobs. That means that over one million kids will drop out of school every year.

*Nearly 40 percent of public school students are African-American or Latino. In many school districts this statistic hovers above 90 percent. Yet, less than 8 percent of the nation's teachers are African-American and fewer than 4 percent are Hispanic/Latino.

*In schools inside central cities, 73 percent of teachers are white. In urban schools outside of central cities, 91 percent of public school teachers are white.

Other sources pile on the bad news.

According to the Washington Post, “The scores from the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment showed that U.S. 15-year-olds trailed their peers from many industrialized countries. The average science score of U.S. students lagged behind those in 16 of 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group that represents the world's richest countries. The U.S. students were further behind in math, trailing counterparts in 23 countries. ..” Washington Post December 2007

US ranks 18th out of top 36 countries in high school graduation with 75% of students completing high school. At the top – South Korea with a 93% graduation rate.  

According to an article written by Grisma Athavale less than a year ago and reprinted on line in the Saratoga Falcon,

“American children have school for only 180 days year, compared to the 195 days in Germany and 200 in East Asia. Furthermore, they only have about 2-3 hours of homework per night and are not pressured by society to take extra classes after school; a fact that appalls nations such as Japan and India, whose children take after school classes regularly to help them with their studies.

Americans also have the shortest school day, a mere six and half hours, all packed into the morning and early afternoon. Countries such as Denmark and Sweden boast a staggering 40 to 50 hour school week, making some American education reforms re-think they way they write guidelines for the nation’s schools…”

Kentucky long has ranked near the bottom in all measures of achievement among its rivals nationally.  When I taught school, our mantra was “Thank God for Mississippi” since we managed to outscore them academically.

Efforts like the Kentucky Educational Reform Act (KERA) now ten years old and No Child Left Behind, the federal effort to improve education, contain both good and bad ideas. The good ideas of local control and an attitude that children can succeed are counterbalanced by the bad ideas of teaching to tested subjects to the exclusion to others. The mandates come fast and furious. No wonder teachers and administrators feel beleaguered. The pressure to produce educational progress for children from backgrounds that run the socieconomic gamut test the nerve of everyone involved in education.

We wondered if there was any good news to be had in West Kentucky schools, so we asked school board offices one simple question: 

What are you doing this year that you are most proud of?

Several districts responded. I broke each response into a separate webpage.  Each district that took the time to respond deserves a bright light to shine on them.

Read each story carefully. There is good news and there is work to be done.  Hillary Clinton wrote a book a few years ago about it taking a village to raise a child. That hasn’t changed because the economy is weak in our EducationNation.

Schools look to us, the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, citizens, onlookers, taxpayers, young and old, to support them in the most important job in a civilized society – preparing the younger generation to take their place as citizens.

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