Can the Schools Be Saved?
Public Education in the United States is a vast enterprise, involving some 45 million young people, or three-fifths of all Americans under the age of nineteen; 85,000 schools; 5 million employees; and a cost to taxpayers of more than a quarter-trillion dollars annually. Vast as this enterprise is, it is also increasingly precarious. The evidence is by now so familiar as hardly to bear repeating:
* In 1994, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), six out of seven eighth-graders were not “proficient” in American history, and 57 percent of high-school seniors registered “below basic” in this subject.
* In the same year, three out of four seniors were less than “proficient” in geography; 30 percent lacked even rudimentary understanding.
* Two out of five fourth-graders, including two out of every three black and Hispanic youngsters, can hardly read at all. Among high-school seniors in 1994, only 36 percent were “proficient” in this most basic skill.
* Almost half the entering freshmen in the California state-university system in 1994 required remedial instruction in reading or math or both—the fifth straight year in which this number has increased.
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