“Our public schools are the best in the state.”

“Our public schools are the best in the state.”

This infers that the education is very, very good. But, that begs the question: “What do you mean by ‘good’?” Are Christians to answer that question using the world’s definition of good, or should we answer it using the truth of the Bible?

Of course, we must answer it from God’s truth. Put simply, the only true and good education is one that has Christ at the center. In God’s eyes, that is all that has to be said about that.

However, let’s analyze the situation using the common perception that a good education is one that is academically strong and does not have Jesus Christ at the center.

Assuming the function of education is to prepare children academically for life, a staggering number of facts tell us that by any sensible measure, children in America are not getting a good education.

Year after year, the reports from the public schools tell us that they are trying many things to increase test scores and the quality of education. An incredible amount of time, money, and gray matter has been wasted over the years as wave after wave of “new and better” ways to teach have come and gone. For example, experiments in teaching higher level thinking skills apart from foundational principles or sight word reading instead of phonics based reading, have given us generations of students who are not prepared to succeed.

The 25 year long push for promoting self esteem has resulted in abject failure. Changing the truth and accuracy of grades, not using red ink when marking papers, or doing away with anything that may make a child feel badly has not resulted in children who are duped into feeling good and subsequently succeeding, but instead, have lowered the bar of expectations and reduced healthy competition. Studies have shown that even the students know that they are not being told the truth by the adults when clearly they are not succeeding in the classroom.

When we look at actual test results, they may be up or down a few percentile points from year to year, but there is little real improvement. Part of this is due to the nature of the scores themselves. Generally, test scores are reported as “percentiles.” A “percentile” score is not the same as a “percentage” grade. When you read about percentiles, that number indicates the percentage of students who scored lower than the given student or school. For example, if Johnny (or a school system) has a 65 percentile score, it means Johnny scored better than 65 percent of the students who took that test. By definition, then, a 50th percentile score is an average score – 50% of students scored lower, 50% scored higher. That means the percentile scores are not a measure of how well students do in relation to a standard of excellence, but are comparing students with one another. If a school system’s percentile scores increase, it can mean one of two things: either the students in the system achieved at a higher level than previously (thus doing better in comparison to others), or it could mean that most other students achieved at lower levels than previously (thus lowering the “average” score). Percentile scores are, in a sense, comparing students to mediocrity (the “average).

State test results- The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act was based on good intentions, including a desire to raise standards of achievement and to bring all students up to those standards. However, as with many broad, sweeping laws, there are unintended consequences, which actually prevent reaching those goals.

Under NCLB, each state determined how to define “adequate yearly progress” – the improvement that should be seen, and how that improvement will be measured. In some cases, this is like allowing a math student to come up with the answer key for his own math test – there’s little doubt he will get a high grade on that basis! But, even when the standard for progress is appropriate, the result is all too often that teachers reduce their teaching to just those things which will be on the test. Class time is spent on endless drill and practice tests, just so the class and school will perform well on the all-important test, while the concept of a well-rounded in-depth education is lost. So, instead of producing students who know the content well and can apply that content in many areas of life, such classes produce students who are adept at taking tests.

Additionally, these yearly tests brought a tremendous amount of pressure to the teachers and administrators because poorly scoring schools would receive consequences. This has led to many instances of teachers and administrators actually changing the answers on the students’ tests!

Now, the national effort to raise educational success in America has given public schools a new standard called, Common Core. Once again, the Federal government is setting standards for the states and the states are, once again, deciding how they will interpret and present the test results in their state. Where Common Core was supposed to improve on NCLB, it is failing in the same way.

National/world results- The future of American competiveness is in danger. Report after report is sounding the alarm bell that our children are woefully behind many other countries. For reams of data on the subject, you can go to web sites such as http://nces.ed.gov/index.asp or http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

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