September 9, 2009
By Dan Lips
A new school year is under way, but we already can grade the
condition of American education. Let's just say no "honor student"
bumper stickers will be necessary.
The typical child entering first grade this year can expect
taxpayers to spend more than $100,000 on his or her Education
through high school. (The Department of Education reports the
average annual per-pupil expenditure in U.S. public schools is now
more than $10,000.) But the data show that, all too often, our
six-figure investment in every child's future doesn't guarantee a
A recent national test of eighth-grade students found that fewer
than one in three were proficient in reading. The Department of
Education reports that at least a quarter of all students fail to
earn a high-school diploma. In many of our nation's largest cities,
more than half of all students drop out before graduation.
Widespread failure in our schools imposes serious costs - for
students and society.
Consider how valuable having a high-school diploma is. If
parents want to give their kids an extra reason to do their
homework, here are a few handy facts.
Statistics show that a person who graduates from high school has
better odds of living a longer and more productive life. The U.S.
Census Bureau estimates that a high-school graduate can expect to
earn at least $200,000 more over the course of his lifetime than a
dropout. An analysis published by the Teachers College of Columbia
University found that the average life expectancy for high school
graduates is about nine years longer than it is for dropouts.
Of course, it also matters that students actually learn while
they're in school. McKinsey and Co. estimates that our failure to
ensure that all children receive a quality Education has created
what amounts to a permanent national recession - reducing our
national economic output by $400 billion to $670 billion annually,
or between 3 percent and 4 percent of GDP. Moreover, since
uneducated adults are more likely to become dependent on federal
and state services, pervasive failure in American classrooms adds
to our tax burden and ballooning government deficits.
The bottom line is that our nation's Education system is in a
state of crisis - and everyone has a stake in seeing that it is
Tragically, we've known about this problem for decades. And for
the most part, our elected leaders, collectively, have done little
to solve it. Special interest groups that benefit from the status
quo - led by the National Education Association, the nation's
largest teachers' union - have succeeded in blocking most of the
aggressive reforms so desperately needed to improve the quality of
The simple truth is, we are responsible for the crisis in
American education. We have let it happen. And millions of children
will continue to pass through our nation's schools without reaching
their potential so long as we, as a nation, continue to do
As kids go back to school, here's some homework for adults for
the coming school year. Become informed and make your voice heard
in debates about education. Learn about what we're spending on our
public schools and what we're seeing in terms of student
performance. Follow what is happening in the state legislature and
on the local school board.
It will take hard work. But if enough people get involved and
demand serious reform, we can fix the chronic problems that plague
our nation's public schools. The future of millions of children -
indeed, of the nation itself - depends on it.
Lips is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage
First Appeared in the Tampa Tribune
A new school year is under way, but we already can grade the condition of American education. Let's just say no "honor student" bumper stickers will be necessary.
Education Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Senior Policy Analyst
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