The Corner


The Roots of Our Educational Failure

(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

As I’ve been saying for the twenty years I have been with the Martin Center (previously known as the Pope Center), our colleges underperform. Of course, some students get a superb education that equips them well for life, but on the whole, students get surprisingly little value from college. Standards are low and the curriculum is weak. Many faculty members are more concerned with being popular than with sound education.

How did they get that way?

Education analyst Sandra Stotsky has just written a book entitled The Roots of Low Achievement that goes a long way towards answering that question. In today’s Martin Center article, Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein reviews the book.

He writes, “The Roots of Low Achievement surveys the condition of public schooling in the U.S. It’s a handy digest of what’s gone wrong and why. In ten crisp chapters, Stotsky emphasizes facts that educators, funders, and politicians prefer to ignore. Those of us who want to see an academic renewal in America cannot ignore them.”

Despite educational fads in reading and math, big government fixes like Common Core, and just shoveling money into schools (as Mark Zuckerberg has done), academic achievement has been slowly falling. The worst school barely pretends to educate; students graduate lest the school look bad under politically established metrics.

One gigantic distraction from quality education for all has been the obsession with racial achievement gaps. Bauerlein writes, “Even if we accept that gap-closing is a proper goal (though Stotsky does not), their efforts have been fruitless.”

Low achievement in high school means that many students will enter college with poor skills, but with the expectation that they’ll receive high grades for minimal work. To keep those kids happy and paying, most colleges have decided to accommodate their desires.

Bauerlein concludes, “The Roots of Low Achievement compiles all the evidence you need to show how badly the student-centered, gap-closing orientation has failed — not just to prepare students for college, but for life. It’s time to remove people who presided over those failures from any further efforts.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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