Last week was a bounty of good news for boosters of the Pittsburgh Promise. It was announced that $160 million had been raised over the past four years, putting it well on its way to a ten year target of $250 million. The first recipients of money from the 2007-08 graduating class that went to a four year program just completed their studies.
Sarcastically borrowing from Carl Sagan, we can say, billions and billions and billions of dollars poured into K-12 education and what do we get? The lowest SAT reading scores and a combined drop of 18 points in reading and math over the last five years. "No child left behind" appears to have turned into "more students lagging behind". In fairness to Mr. Sagan we are talking about hundreds of billions upon hundreds of billions of dollars to achieve this sorry result.
The latest report from the College Board, the firm administering the SAT tests, informs us that, according to their research, a combined score of 1550 on reading, writing and math seems to be necessary to achieve a successful freshman year at college. Only 43 percent of test takers scored that high in the 2011 round of exams.
What does that mean for the nearly 60 percent who fell below the 1550 level? Will they not get into college? No, it means that additional billions of dollars will be spent on remedial education by the colleges. It means that extra years will be spent getting a four year degree-time essentially wasted by the students and classroom space. It means lower admission standards. It means continued dilution and degradation of the educational quality received. It means more watered down, politically correct course offerings in subjects that have little or no relevance to any post-graduation job skill requirements.
The SAT scores point to a disastrous waste of resources and a dumbing down of the American student population at a time when our students already lag far behind those in other countries in math and science. But the educational establishment refuses to adopt measures that might have a chance of turning the situation around. And it is time to ask the question. Is college really the best post high school choice for many of these kids? Are we setting them up for failure in higher education when there are careers in which they can make a good living and be happy in their work with a high school diploma and some specialized training?
School districts around the region and across the Commonwealth are grappling with the realities of the coming fiscal year and exploring methods of cost-savings and revenue enhancements. In recent weeks the possibilities of furloughs, pay freezes, tax increases, school closures, mergers, and student fees (either separately or in combination) have been mentioned.
Once again reality intrudes on the fantasy world of the politicians, educrats, teachers’ unions, school board members, and many parents who have swallowed hook, line and sinker the narrative that ever greater spending will improve educational results. Just released 2010 SAT scores for Pennsylvania high schoolers can only be described as appallingly inadequate given the increases in state and local taxes over the past decade.
In an opinion piece earlier this week the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association set out the teachers’ association position on the impending requirement for massive contribution increases to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Those increases will almost certainly necessitate hikes in state and school district taxes. Basically, teachers will help craft a solution to the pension funding crisis as long as they are not required to shoulder any of the burden. That is to say, the unions will strongly oppose any reduction in future retirement benefits and any efforts to shift to a defined contribution system such as 401(k)s. So much for any real assistance.