- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 16, 2005

Americans are focused on our relations with China, many fearfully so. Will we able to compete as China continues taking manufacturing jobs from a free-market America?

A recent Senate Finance Committee hearing was held on this subject. The main witness, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, opposed tariffs on Chinese goods, but said little else of substance — except for one telling comment.

In the long run, he accurately pointed out, our economic strength in the world market eventually rests mainly on one factor — brainpower, measured by the quality of our education system. In that race, he emphasized, we are failing badly.

Why is it, Mr. Greenspan asked, that our fourth-grade students are superior in international competition, while our eighth-grade students have proven inferior? Also, why are 12th graders hopeless in the key disciplines of math and science? In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, our high schoolers scored 19th out of 21 countries, beating out only Cyprus and South Africa. They scored 20 percent lower than the Netherlands, a nation that lives on its brainpower — as America might one day have to do.

Asked why our students become more ignorant the longer they stay in our public schools, Mr. Greenspan’s response was typical of America’s uninformed leaders: “I have no idea.”

But for those of us who have studied public education, the answer is clear: Our educators, from teachers through superintendents of schools, are academically and intellectually so inferior that the fourth grade is apparently the outer limit of their teaching abilities. They are so poorly selected, poorly trained and lacking in general intelligence, that failure by our middle- and high-school students is foreordained.

How can we support such a potent indictment? Easily. All standardized exams confirm their shocking inferiority. On the Scholastic Aptitude Test college entrance exams, the average student score is 1026. In affluent areas, the typical score is closer to 1050, or more.

How do our would-be teachers score? Abysmally. Those who intend to teach scored near the bottom, with an SAT score of only 965, lower by 61 points than the average student. The Education Department explains that future teachers typically come from the lower third of their high-school class. Yet they move on to teacher training, generally at low-level teacher’s colleges. Only 1 in 8 teachers have a true liberal arts degree.

Most cannot get into a regular liberal arts college and must be satisfied with training in “education,” which is not a true discipline. That truth was exposed by alternate certification teachers, who generally do better than so-called “qualified” teachers though they have never taken an education course.

The typical education curriculum is no better than that of a two-year community college and filled with generally false psychological instruction (courses such as “Personality and Adjustment”) rather than solid content. Their standards are so base that the head of teacher training at a main Connecticut state college inadvertently volunteered the truth. “Gross,” he said, “you are hung up on knowledge. Knowledge was important when we were a manufacturing society. Now that we are a service society, it is more important to understand how to work with people in groups.”

Defendants of teachers note that their 965 score is only of those who intend to become teachers. What of those who actually became teachers? The story there is even more depressing. On the GRE, the Graduate Record Exam, taken by those seeking a master’s in eight professions, teachers score the lowest, with engineers at the top. The engineers even beat the teachers in the verbal test by 29 points.

Elementary school teachers score near the bottom in the GRE, but principals and superintendents of schools score even lower. Little wonder our children are so ignorant.

More than 100,000 teachers take a master’s in education, but that degree is essentially false. A study of 481 masters in education showed they took 26 more credits in debatable “education” and only nine in the liberal arts. Only 1 in 5 were even required to write a thesis. Hardly masters of anything.

The “doctoral” program, which grants an Ed.D. degree held by most superintendents of schools, is at an equally low level. The educational doctoral program at New York University shows almost no liberal arts courses. Only 1 in 7 education “doctors” hold a true Ph.D. degree. The Ed.D. is purposely simple, yet the title “doctor,” even if not truly earned, impresses most parents.

The educational establishment has created a costly, generally unnecessary army of school bureaucrats. In 1960, there were 96,000. Now there are 215,000. Support troops — reading specialists, guidance counselors, etc. — have grown from 700,000 in 1960 to 2.5 million, with no gain in academic performance.

Because of weak schooling, fewer American students major in science and math, increasing our dependence on foreign talent. Almost half the science and math Ph.D.s in the United States are earned by foreign students. America grants only 4,400 such Ph.D.s to U.S. citizens, far less than the Ph.D., count in China. In the U.S., only 17 percent of Ph.D.s are in science, engineering and math, while in China that share is 58 percent.

One reason for this is that American educators are themselves undereducated in these disciplines. A majority who teach math and science in middle school are not trained in those subjects, while high school math teachers typically have less training in math than a simple math baccalaureate.

What can be done to improve the critical situation?

Defenders of the system claim more money is needed. Teachers now make almost $50,000 a year — considerably more in affluent suburbs. More money is valuable, but it is not the answer. Catholic schools perform better with lower teacher salaries, as do most private schools.

Why aren’t parents outraged at the poor, expensive education given their children? Because they are lied to about their children’s progress. Students who should get C’s and D’s are instead being given A’s and B’s.

This clever if dishonest scheme of “grade inflation” has spread across America, satisfying parents who might otherwise be critical of the schools. A majority of students in a middle school in my area were put on the honor roll, which gullible parents quickly announced on their bumper stickers. However, one suspicious parent was surprised when his daughter got an A in algebra. When he worked with her, he realized she could not do the simplest algebraic equation, and put her in private school.

Educators also lie about most teachers’ competency. Education graduates take a state licensing exam at a lowly high-school level, then enter the public school classroom as supposedly “qualified,” a clever propaganda term. However, better private schools such as Choate (John F. Kennedy’s alma mater) refuse to hire these teachers. Of the entire faculty at Choate, not one has the typical undergraduate degree in education.

There are several answers to the problem of inferior K-12 education, but I will mention just four.

(1) Close all undergraduate schools of education, and eliminate the generally ignorant and gullible 18-year-olds from the system. Instead, adopt the system used by most European and Asian nations. They require teacher candidates be graduates of a liberal arts college, and have at least a B average. They spend one year in practical teacher training, not in studying outdated educational theories.

(2) High school teachers of calculus receive the same pay as kindergarten teachers, which is ludicrous. To get satisfactory high school teachers, we must select better and pay more. To save money, we should fire 50 percent of administrators and support personnel and bring the student-bureaucrat ratio back to where it was 40 years ago.

(3) Education is not now a free market, but a closed shop. Scholarly college graduates who might be more independent are purposely kept out. A Yale summa cum laude in math is prohibited by law from teaching math in most states because he or she doesn’t have an “education” degree. But the Yalie can teach — in private schools.

The answer? Change the law so teachers need no education credits at all. Superintendents should be able to hire better college graduates trained in a true academic field. Then mathematicians will teach math, scientists teach science, and historians teach history. For the extra money needed, see (2).

(4) The middle school and high school should, by state law, be separated from elementary school and headed by a separate scholarly superintendent with a Ph.D. in a subject other than “education.”

Who is to blame for the educational travesty, which could, sooner than we think, destroy America’s wealth and power?

The villains are many, especially the National Education Association, a trade union masquerading as a professional organization. Another villain, the PTA, works in tandem with the NEA. Still another villain is the typical citizen, only 12 percent of whom vote in school board elections.

But the final villains are our politicians. Since the U.S. Constitution grants education responsibility to the states, the true power, and blame, rests with state legislators. Most are ignorant of education and allied with teachers and NEA, which buys their allegiance with millions in campaign contributions.

The ultimate villains are our 50 state governors, who fear the antiknowledge educational monopoly. Until they raise their voices in protest, name true scholars as their commissioners of education, and change the laws to permit talented people and not low-level “educators” to teach in our public schools, they will continue failing the nation.

And they should remember that admonition when China has finally finished eating our lunch.

Martin L. Gross has written several New York Times best-sellers on government and is author of “The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Failure of American Public Schools,” Harper Collins. He is a past recipient of the National Education Association’s School Bell Award.

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