WASHINGTON – ISIL is now recognized as an existential threat to America. Millions have seen two fellow Americans beheaded by an ISIL butcher in a a made for TV staged execution. And so public opinion, generally reluctant about new foreign military adventures, now supports fighting and destroying ISIL in Iraq and Syria, at least for now. Once again a complacent and distracted America has been rudely woken up. “Hey, there is a real danger out there. Better do something”. So far, so good.
Americans react to crises
But the problem with this American psychology that needs a major, clear-cut, disruptive event in order to approve forceful action is that slow-moving crises that get a little bit worse every day are usually ignored. Indeed, unless you have the functional equivalent of a beheading video, nobody worries.
Public education gets worse
A perfect example of this is the creeping crisis of the US public education system. Simply stated, in the US it is very difficult for any child attending public schools, especially low-income children, mostly Blacks and Hispanics, to get a decent, let alone superior, education.
Most children enrolled in the system at best get mediocre instruction. In many instances the whole school experience is totally meaningless. Even when the cycle is fully completed, and the student successfully graduates from high school, his/her knowledge of basic math is so bad that most firms cannot employ him or her.
Basic facts regarding academic scores and the results of each and every international comparison show, year after year, how the system routinely fails millions of children by providing at best the illusion of an education.
Is this a crisis?
And yet, all this bad news notwithstanding, we never seem to reach “the crisis point”. Sure enough, there are many grass-roots efforts aimed at offering alternatives to this most deficient public education system. Charter schools, private foundations and many non profits now offer affordable quality eduction, especially to the poor, that is those who need it the most.
But, again, there is no united, national outcry. The American people have not risen saying: “Enough is enough. This is a disgrace. This way we are condemning millions of children to a life of under achievement. We can and will do better”.
I see at least two reasons for this.
Elites not touched
Number one, this crisis does not affect the elites. The rich and the well-educated usually have the means to send their children to higher quality private schools. Which is to say that this gigantic national failure does not touch them directly.
The power of the unions
Number two, the Democratic Party has a complicated relationship with the large and powerful teachers unions. As the unions are pillars of support for the party, it is almost impossible for most Democrats to antagonize them.
And it so happens that the unions, sadly, are the staunch defenders of the status quo. They protect bad teachers and they have imposed a system whereby it is almost impossible to get rid of incompetent instructors.
In fact, we routinely observe that even in school districts that show really bad academic results, more than 90% of all teachers are rated good or excellent.
How bad is this?
But, anyway, how bad is all this?
Well, here is just one vivid illustration provided by three Illinois state lawmakers in a letter to the WSJ:
“This academic year, more than 150,000 children in our [Illinois] lowest performing schools will fail to meet grade-level achievement by June. Even if that group of children graduate in four years, less than 20% of them will be considered ‘college ready’. They are not outliers. Overall, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that nearly two thirds of all Illinois fourth-graders do not perform at grade level in math or reading”.
Got that? What this amounts to is that vast majorities of Illinois children who attend public schools are semi-illiterate, and some of them really illiterate. And yet the system allows them to move up from grade to grade, until they get a useless diploma. A stunning 80% of these graduates are unprepared for college. And here we are not even counting all the drop-outs, all those who got lost along the way, and never finished school.
Anyway, this is how America takes care of those who desperately need a good education as their best tool to move up the socio-economic ladder.
Today as never before “hard work” alone is not enough to succeed in life. Unless a child is armed with a good education, his or her chances to succeed in an ultra competitive labor market are minimal or non existent.
All our leaders know this. And yet we just continue to plod along, as if this were a small, manageable problem, possibly requiring some tweaks here and there.
De facto apartheid
No, ladies and gentlemen, this appalling system reflects a “de facto” apartheid. The rich take care of their own. The poor (who are mostly minorities) better figure out a way to fend for themselves, as we have no intention to seriously fight a system dominated by vested interests that routinely resist education reform.
Translation: the rich will do fine. The uneducated poor have few or no chances to get ahead. We know this, but we do not care.