So Are We Dumber?
What do you think? Are our modern tests easier? We have no way of knowing how many 8th graders could list all 22 amendments in 1954, but we do know that only 7% of 8th graders could name all three branches of the US government in 2010.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor nailed it when she reacted to hearing these scores by saying "That's pathetic." She also founded a non-profit to develop Web-based learning games to help our nation's civics scores get out of the gutter.
These statistics do seem shocking, but at the same time it's important to keep in mind that this isn't the first time America has felt like she was in the middle of an education crisis. When the Russians rocked America's confidence by launching Sputnik in 1947, America's response was to focus on bulking up science and math programs. The 1950's and 1960's saw books printed with titles like What Ivan Knows That Johnny Doesn't and Why Can't Johnny Read? - the public education system was at risk, and seems to have been that way ever since.
The 1981 findings of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, formed to assess America's public school system seemed equally dire. "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war," they told us.
Do we have a real education crisis? In some ways, it looks like the answer is yes. Every student coming from years of public schooling should know where the sun is located in our solar system and who the first president was. Those facts are basic and contribute to our ability to understand today's world.
When viewed from another standpoint, things seem static. Although recently much has been made of America's slipping test scores when it comes to math and science, especially compared to China, our ranking has been pretty much the same for decades. When 13-year olds took the first International Math Study in 1964, America came in at 11th place. This was out of only twelve countries, which doesn't certainly doesn't make today's test takers look too shabby.
In 2010, taking the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), American students came in 11th place again. Only this time, it was out of 65 competing countries. No change at all in the ranking, but now, many developing nations are looking to climb the education ladder. Meanwhile, it looks like America has squandered a fifty year head start.
Today's school children are spending more time than ever in school, graduating with more degrees and getting more advanced degrees. They're also faced with more knowledge to learn than ever. Textbooks present a deeper understanding of history than they did in the 1920's. Our government is much larger and there are more Amendments to study than in 1954. Math has moved away from rote memorization and into the realm of more engaging problem solving, using word problems instead of only numbers to encourage critical thinking. There are strides being made in the quality and breadth of education that can't be measured by statistics on current adult literacy, for example.
The landscape of Educational topics What hasn't changed is the importance of parents sitting down with their kids and connecting through learning. Whatever changes happen in the public education sector for Education, it's home where kids can start to value the shared bonding experience of going through a book with their parent and learning together.