The message is repeatedly thrust before us: United States ranks well below other industrialized countries when it comes to education. No matter which study you read, it does not look good-we stink at reading, writing, and mathematics.
In 2002, a United Nations study (UNICEF) determined South Korea to have the most effective education system among twenty-four of the world's richest countries; Japan came in second place. Where did the US fall on the list? Near the bottom.
Disturbing news like this always raises the ire in our elected officials. Their battle covers can be heard during the legislative sessions: We must reform our schools! Teachers will be held accountable for student learning! There should be standards, and student achievement will be measured by these standards.
That, No Child Left Behind becomes more justified. Policies, designed to hoist our nation's ratings, are set in place. Reading programs sprout through our school systems. Instructional strategies, based upon research-driven results, are implemented. Ineffective teachers receive transfers or no-return notices. Students who can not cut it drop out. Parents who are able to afford it yank their kids out of public schools and put them in private schools.
But go back and look at those studies again. There is something quite glaring.
A typical classroom full of students in South Korea or Japan looks nothing like a typical classroom in the US The images (readily obtained on the Internet) flagrantly show something that can be explained in one word-diversity.
What languages are spoken (and understood) in South Korea? Korean. In Japan? Japanese. What about the United States? English, Spanish, Creole, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Portuguese, Samoan, and dozens more.
Patrick McCormick of UNICEF clarified the study when he said that countries with economically diverse populations and with large immigrant populations ranked low on their list.
Well, welcome to America!
The continued bashing of our educational system stems from studies such as these and it's wrong. Yet, legislators use this as a basis to make critical decisions that affect our children's education. They validate the use of tougher demands on our schools without recognizing the inherent differences of student population-and that's wrong, too.