Improving education

By JOSE de la ISLA

Do you remember taking the SAT? It might have had a problem like this: “Pat needs two colors for a fashion design. She has green, black and red material. Which one will she not use?”

The answer is black. It is not a color.

Similarly, the Education Testing Service, the people who bring you the SAT, missed the mark in its recent study delineating the “factors” leading to a national economic wreck looming ahead for lack of education reform.

The public is already programmed to expect more teaching, more learning and verifying better education is the way to go.

However, ETS’s latest report, “America’s Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation’s Future,” says there’s something else to consider.

Retiring skilled baby boomers will be replaced by a less educated population, it says. So far, the analysis makes sense. But then it goes bonkers. It observes immigration, now at a high rate, will continue, and Hispanics are a large proportion of that population.

There you have it. The decline of American civilization is due to — uh –Hispanics.

ETS researchers could have said there is a national need for new methods to educate an immigrant population. They could have stated that 65,000 high school graduates are an oppressed class, barred from higher education opportunities because of their immigrant status.

It’s true that low-skill, low-education migrants depress the statistics. It’s true that many migrants are Hispanic. But not all Hispanics are migrants who depress educational advancement. The inference is insulting.

The responsibility lies with an underachieving education delivery system. Public-policy analysts shouldn’t obfuscate the issue by scape-goating.

The education establishment insists on bringing all attention to the schools and not on education. “School” is about buildings, administration, market share and operating the plant.

The United States spends more on primary and secondary education schooling than do most developed countries. Yet this country has larger classes, lower test scores and higher dropout rates than most other advanced industrialized countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris.

Meanwhile, South Korea and other Asian nations are outpacing both the United States and Europe in grade-school and university education. Western economic dominance is threatened by our own education charade.

On the other hand, “education” is about the level of actual knowledge and learning, research and development in society. Growing in this direction is what really concerns the general public.

ETS itself previously reported in its study “One-Third of a Nation: Rising Dropout Rates and Declining Opportunities” some alternative ways to approach a combination of problems.

Teachers College researchers at Columbia University report U.S. taxpayers could gain $45 billion annually if the number of high school dropouts were cut in half. By bettering certain socioeconomic characteristics, the number of parents living at home, and frequently changing schools, dropout rates could be cut by 58 percent in 24 states.

In other words, the “perfect storm” already occurring is in the socioeconomic improvements that need attention.

Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same failing thing over and over and expecting a different result? It wouldn’t hurt to put on our thinking caps and act rationally, just as they expect us to do on the SAT.

(Jose de la Isla, a former educator, is author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power, published by Archer Books. E-mail joseisla3(at)yahoo.com)