- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

It has been more than two decades since the federal government issued its 1983 landmark education report, “A Nation at Risk.” Rightly decrying the “rising tide of mediocrity” within America’s schools, the report warned that the nation’s inadequate education system “threatens our very future as a nation and a people.”

The subsequent “reform” movement set wonderful objectives, which were embodied in the “Goals 2000” movement. By the millennium, according to these goals, U.S. students would be the first in the world in math and science. Federal spending on education soared. State legislatures across the nation raised sales-tax rates; property taxes went through the roof; lotteries were established with promises to earmark money for schools; state and local income taxes were either instituted or raised. From 1980 to 2002, measured in inflation-adjusted dollars indexed to the 2001-2002 school year, spending per pupil in public schools increased by $3,600, rising from $5,400 per student to $9,000. That is a two-thirds spending increase.

One indisputable result from two decades of reform and soaring spending is that American educators have done a wonderful job instilling self esteem into the hearts and minds of American students. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently conducted a multinational study among 250,000 15-year-olds, including more than 5,000 from the United States. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) asked students to assess their own math skills. Compared to students from South Korea and Japan, U.S. students had great confidence in their math abilities. Unfortunately, their self esteem far exceeded their grasp of math. Among the 29 industrialized nations of the OECD, the math scores of South Korean (542) and Japanese (534) students were the second- and fourth-highest, respectively. Finland’s students finished first (544). Against an average of 500, U.S. teens tied for 21st place with a score of 483. When the OECD included the scores of 10 other nations that aren’t OECD members, the U.S. ranking fell three more notches.

Results from another major survey, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), revealed that younger American students continue to lag behind many nations in math and science. Last year, three years after U.S. students were to be No. 1 in the world in math and science, TIMSS ranked U.S. fourth-graders 12th out of 25 nations in math and sixth in science. Among the 45 countries included in the TIMSS survey of eighth-graders, U.S. students finished 15th in math and ninth in science. In the wake of skyrocketing spending on schools, taxpayers must now ensure that students’ math and science skills begin to approach the students’ highfalutin views of themselves.

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