Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Policy in Education
The Forum for Education and Democracy
More students live in poverty and lack health care than was true 35 years ago. Nearly one-fourth of U.S. children live in families below the poverty line, more than
in any other industrialized nation.
On the most recent international assessments, the U.S. ranked 21st of 30 OECD countries in science and 25th of 30 in mathematics — a drop from a few years earlier. U.S. outcomes are also among the most unequal in the world and the most reliant on socioeconomic status.
U.S. high school graduation rates have been stagnant for a quarter century and have recently begun to decline, even though the economy increasingly requires higher levels of education. While many high-achieving nations now graduate virtually all of their students, we currently graduate only about 70 percent.
The U.S. has dropped from first in the world to 13th in higher education participation. Only half of those who make it to college are well-enough prepared
and supported to graduate with a degree.
In the end, about 30 percent of an age cohort in the U.S. gains a college degree,
as compared to nearly 50 percent in OECD countries.
Not coincidentally, our incarceration rates are higher than they have ever been, with one in 100 Americans currently behind bars. Most inmates are high school dropouts who are functionally illiterate. Growth in state spending on prisons far outstrips growth in education spending. Several states now spend more on corrections than they do on higher education.
Meanwhile, indicators of democratic engagement are declining. Studies reveal declines in voter knowledge and participation, trust in one another, the strength of community life and institutions, and connectedness to family and friends — trends that go hand-in-hand with the nation’s educational decline. Those least involved in
community and civic life are the least educated Americans.
Although many reforms have come and gone since 1983, we have lacked a purposeful,
strategic approach for developing and investing in the kind of education that addresses the needs of a democratic society. In contrast to countries that have spent the last 20 years building forward-looking educational systems that fund schools centrally and equally, build a top-flight teaching force, focus on 21st century learning needs, and develop the capacity for school improvement, the U.S. has focused on none of these critical elements of success for an extended period of time.
To Read the Entire Report
Christian Science Monitor: Despite 25 years of reform, U.S. schools still fall short