Hand Wringing

Reading time – 2:10; Viewing time – 3:33  .  .  .

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is conducted every 3 years and tests academic proficiency internationally of 15-year-olds. American kids haven’t progressed. “About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old .  .  . ” There’s more to learn and you can find a report here.

Meanwhile, students in other countries are consistently better prepared to succeed. We’ve tried various programs, including No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards, the Every Student Succeeds Act, Race to the Top and we’ve spent billions of dollars, but our kids are still behind.

American kids from wealthy families living in strong school districts are doing fine. Perhaps it’s the excellent schools. Maybe that performance is driven by family attitudes and expectations.

At the other end of the fixed-in-place economic teeter-totter are kids whose main academic achievement lies in falling behind not quite so much. So many schools are in disrepair, as are teaching materials and any sense of hope. That’s what happens when we attempt to operate our 21st century schools on a 17th century model.

It’s time to figure this out. And it’s time to do so without political turf grabbing or pork barrelling or ego stuffing. Perhaps then we can actually prepare our kids – all of our kids- for the 21st century.

Do you see any national leaders, say, the president, doing anything to make things better? Neither do I. And our inertia is fueling making this the Chinese century.

In an odd way, this is very much like the infrastructure programs we’ve been promised. Other than re-paving some sections of interstate highways and repairing the most dilapidated bridges, have you seen even a hint of infrastructure improvement?

During the 2016  campaign Trump promised an infrastructure program that would be “the biggest and boldest in half a century.” In 2018 he laid out a pie-in-the sky, one-page infrastructure plan. One step in that plan was “Then a miracle happens.” It wasn’t dead on arrival; it was dead before it was sent to Congress. So, there’s been nothing done. Nothing.

I confess that it’s satisfying to bash Trump for that, but we’ve been talking about this issue for decades and doing nothing about it for just as long.

It’s impeachment season, so Congress is mired in either walking or chewing gum and is unable to do both at the same time. So, regardless of impeachment outcomes, we’re certain to hear nothing more about infrastructure than some hand wringing next year. And there won’t be even that for the education of our kids.

This is what absolutist politics that views compromise as surrender does for us.

This is what treating those who disagree as though they’re enemy combatants does for us.

Unless something changes, this is what we’ll continue to get.

Think about that as you make your voting choices on November 3rd.


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3 Responses to Hand Wringing
  1. John Calia Reply

    You’ve done a nice job of capturing the problem statement. A student of recent history on this topic is likely to note that the decline of education in the US is nearly coincident with the creation on the federal Dept. of Education. Once we took resources from local communities through taxation and promised it back to them in the form of federal programs to improve education, everything went to hell. As for those less fortunate, they have never had decent education. They have always been poor and subject to systemic racism. If you take their scores out of the averages, the US doesn’t look so bad.

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      You may be right, that, ” . . . the decline of education in the US is nearly coincident with the creation on the federal Dept. of Education. Once we took resources from local communities through taxation and promised it back to them in the form of federal programs to improve education, everything went to hell.” Where’s the data to support cause and effect?

      I’m inclined to believe that this is less a matter of who does the taxing and distribution of wealth than our being stuck in an educational construct that can’t possibly deliver what’s needed in this very different world. Plus the lack of courage and leadership of our leaders.

  2. Jim Altschuler Reply

    What is important, though, is that, the apathy of past elections has led to where we are now.


    Most states have made voting easier than ever with satellite voting locations, Vote By Mail, a longer “window of time” during which citizens can vote, etc.
    There’s no excuse for not participating in the most important responsibility we Citizens have … regardless of our positions and preferences.


    Our country has taken hit after hit, both domestically and internationally. We Citizens have taken loss after loss, impingement on our rights, and the Twitter-bashing of the little boy who lives in the White House. The majority of the Republican representation have turned into whimpering children, terrified of saying or doing something that will raise the ire of their “daddy” at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Maybe the “Big Boy/Girl Pants” are out at the cleaners or in the laundry. Maybe that’s why they can’t put them on. NO EXCUSES. Democrat or Republican: Do what your constituents elected you to do! And Citizens,