- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 1, 2002

The United States spends more on college than any other industrialized nation, and college enrollments are expected to reach record levels in the coming years, according to the Department of Education's annual report to Congress.
Still, a bevy of problems, ranging from stagnant student scores to chronically high dropout rates, result in a "mixed picture" of U.S. educational trends, said Gary W. Phillips, deputy commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which issued the 340-page report.
"The Condition of Education 2002," released yesterday, tracks trends in U.S. preschools, and elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools. It also has special sections on private schools and "nontraditional" college students who are employed, have a family or are financially independent.
The NCES report shows that America's schools are growing in size and ethnic diversity:
Public school enrollment is projected to reach a record 47.3 million this year and peak at 47.5 million by 2005. (Private schools had 5.3 million students in the 1999-2000 school year).
Thirty-nine percent of public school students in 2000 were minorities, compared with 22 percent in 1972. Hispanic students fueled the growth.
The percentage of high-school graduates who immediately went to college rose from 49.2 in 1972 to 63.3 in 2000. Nearly 60 percent of male graduates and 66 percent of female graduates went directly to college.
"Given those dynamics more students, more different kinds of students the fact that we've been able to maintain and sustain a level of achievement for students is very significant. We think that's progress," said Michael Pons of the National Education Association. Public schools, he added, have done a "remarkable" job in getting more students into college-preparation courses.
The data also show overwhelming support for public schools, Mr. Pons said.
Private schools, which have long maintained a 10 percent share of student enrollment, could have seen an increase in recent years since household incomes went up, he said. Instead, 90 percent of Americans still "choose to send their kids to public schools."
Krista Kafer of Heritage Foundation saw some high points in the NCES study, such as more special-needs students in regular classes, and more students taking advanced studies.
"But, in general, the data seem kind of disappointing when we consider that we're spending about 72 percent more than we did in 1980 and yet, in the last two decades, the indicators haven't really changed," she said, citing persistent black-white "achievement gaps" in reading, static dropout rates, declining parental satisfaction and mediocre U.S. student performance in international education surveys.
The NCES report found that:
Math scores have improved since 1990, but reading scores are essentially the same. Science scores improved among fourth- and eighth-graders but declined among high school students.
Dropout rates of students aged 16 to 24 have averaged 11 percent since 1992.
The United States spent $19,802 per college student in 1998, compared with 24 industrialized countries. Switzerland was next highest, with $16,563 per student
The number of children aged 3 to 5 in center-cased child care rose from 53 percent in 1991 to 56 percent in 2001. Black children and families with incomes at or above poverty levels were most likely to use such centers.

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