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Commentary Detail

Why Can't We Do a Better Job of Educating Our Students?
Commentary by: Susan Uchitelle
Aired February 04, 2011

What is happening to the United States in the world of education? We used to be the envy of many nations with our goal of universal free public quality schooling for all our children.

But look at us now. A very recent report from the respected Program of International Assessment shows that the United States scored 23rd out of 33 countries in science, 17 out of 33 countries in reading, and tied for last place in mathematics! Some of the other countries tested included China, Korea, Finland, Canada, The Netherlands and Germany.

In this country only Massachusetts scored well and Missouri, as a State, did not even participate. Only one school district in the State of Missouri took the test. That district was the Clayton School District whose students posted outstanding performances, coming in among the first tier in science and reading, and at the top of the tier in mathematics. While congratulations are due to the Clayton School District, I ask, why did not other Missouri districts take the test, and why did the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education choose not participate at all? This situation is especially poignant since Governor Nixon lamented in his recent State of the State address that only 35% of Missourians have college degrees? What is happening to our State? Fortunately for us in the recent budget cuts, the governor did not cut pre-collegiate education funding.

These outcomes both nationally and locally are a serious cause for concern. Looking at the findings for China and other countries, we are aware that teaching has become a preferred and respected occupation, with salaries increasing in the profession. School reforms are important and continual and teacher training programs have been accelerated. And there is an incredibly strong ethic in China and other countries where students are told that their country’s reputation depends upon the students’ educational outcomes. These results are organized around competitive exams and intense preparation for them. So where is our students’ pride for quality schooling and why do not more of our students take schooling seriously?

A culture of education in those countries taking the international assessment helps students prevail. Interestingly, there are fewer ancillary activities such as art, music and competitive high school athletics with their replacements concentrated in reading, science and math.

In our state, pre-collegiate education is not a desired profession and often the most able graduates do not go into the field since the pay is low and the respect is minimal. Yet this is the time we need outstanding professionals more than ever .Certainly this should be a wake up call for Missouri, a state that scores in the lower half of all the states in its assessments.
If we are serious about changing this situation in our state we must encourage talented young adults to enter teaching and make the profession financially competitive. By raising compensation we would indicate that we are serious. For a country that puts people on the moon, excels in scientific innovations, has top higher education institutions attracting students from around the world, certainly we must see that our young children in pre-collegiate education excel. Our region and all of its children depend upon us to do our best to change the current trend. What stops us?

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Susan Uchitelle

Susan Uchitelle


Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.

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