TOM WARD - 'We're (not) Number 1!

TOM WARD - 'We're (not) Number 1!

Have we really become this dumb?

Last week, The New York Times published an article written by Richard Perez-Pena, entitled "U.S. adults fare poorly in a study of skills." It began: "American adults lag well behind their counterparts in most other developed countries in the mathematical and technical skills needed for a modern workplace, according to a study released Oct. 8.

"The study... shows that the well-documented pattern of several other countries surging past the United States in students' test scores and young people's college graduation rates corresponds to a skills gap, extending far beyond school. In the United States, young adults in particular fare poorly compared with their international competitors of the same ages - not just in math and technology, but also in literacy.

"More surprisingly, even middle-aged Americans - who, on paper, are among the best-educated people of their generation anywhere in the world - are barely better than middle of the pack in skills."

Whenever I read a story like this, I always ask myself, "Who will benefit from this crisis?" The answer, in this case, is likely an educational bureaucracy in this country that continues to grow.

Right on cue, the story continued: "Arne Duncan, the education secretary, released a statement saying that the findings 'show our education system hasn't done enough to help Americans compete - or position our country to lead - in a global economy that demands increasingly higher skills.'"

Now mind you, I'm getting older, and understand how I will be dismissed for my conservatism. I'm not shouting "Let's go back to how it was when I was a kid," because we can't.

Many reading about this for the first time will think "education has always been this way, and nothing has really changed." For them, I offer the next nugget from the Times' story.

"Among 55- to 65-year-olds, the United States fared better, on the whole, than its counterparts. But in the 45-to-54 age group, American performance was average, and among younger people, it was behind."

So there you have it. Somehow, we "old folks," the baby boomers, were above the world average. Those who graduated high school from about 1977 to 1987 were losing ground, and those who graduated high school after 1988 ranked at the bottom. Sadly, during all of those years, the cost of public education was soaring, and the outcomes were worsening.

There are reasons aplenty that this happened, and all have been studied to death. An increase in broken homes and families that put more challenged children in schools. Teachers' unions and membership who fought back against the decay to try and protect the many members who were trying their hardest to keep up with the change. Lawyers on both sides who drove up taxpayer costs.

There were all the shiny inventions that took our children "off task" from the reading and writing we knew would benefit them and improve their futures.

Distractions from education, like Facebook, grow at an alarming rate, and continue unchecked. "Why," children ask, "should I learn about any history at all if it's all at my fingertips on Google if I need it?"

Now, we have a new generation of educators, including Duncan, who want to teach our children in new ways. Locally, they are succeeding in the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, but that's a charter school, a public school experiment in Rhode Island. While all families may apply, seats are limited.

In Cumberland public schools, new leadership is embracing new methods, and working hard to improve outcomes for all children in the next several years.

I wish our educators and sponsors well. In Cumberland, in Rhode Island, and across America, our society's time may be running out. The world now has all that money we spent in big box stores for all the shiny toys. The world works; we play. It won't last forever.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze


Bring back the "good old nuns" and the past teaching methods! They really knew HOW to teach! This is the reason why we know how to read, write and count without a calculator, etc... Besides, our passing grade was "70"-----not somewhere in the "60's".