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The Breaking of American Education
A Statistical View
What has happened to American education since the time of the Frankfurt School and the introduction of neo-Marxism, Critical Theory, and Postmodern skepticism? This is a broad question, with many methods of analysis. In this article, I’m going approach the question from a purely statistical point of view.
But first, a caveat: quality of education is almost impossible to accurately measure quantitatively. In our post-Newtonian/Baconian world, built on the Scientific Revolution, we try to view everything from a mechanistic, materialistic, and mathematical perspective. This affects our view of education, generating our obsession with grades, GPAs, ACT scores, and the projected income of different college majors. In reality, education is about forming character and acquiring wisdom—both of which are much harder to measure. Indeed, they cannot be quantified or statistically analyzed.
But for the moment, we will accept the premise that success or failure in education can be assessed numerically. Very well. This post will show that even using that flawed metric of educational success, the Postmodern, neo-Marxist project in education is a failure.
Commenting on the 2019 National Report Card (NAEP), Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said, “Every American family needs to open The Nation’s Report Card this year and think about what it means for their child and for our country’s future. The results are, frankly, devastating. This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students. Two out of three of our nation’s children aren’t proficient readers. In fact, fourth grade reading declined in 17 states and eighth grade reading declined in 31. The gap between the highest and lowest performing students is widening, despite $1 trillion in federal spending over 40 years designated specifically to help close it.”
A 2021 Pew Research survey discovered that a quarter of American adults haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the last year. Those numbers are nearly triple the numbers reported in 1978. (Source.)
Only 28% of adults in that survey told Pew that they had read more than 10 books in the past year. In 1978, the figure was 40%. (Source.)
In 2020, the U.S. Department of Education found that 54% of US adults from the ages of 16-74 lack proficiency in literacy, meaning that they read below a sixth-grade level. That’s about 130 million people. (Source.)
Only five percent of 17-year-old students in 1988 could read well enough to understand and use information in technical material, literary analysis, historical documents, and college-level texts. This percentage has been declining since 1971. (Source.)
Average Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores fell 41 points between 1972 and 1991. The number of kids achieving over 600 on the verbal portion of the SAT has fallen 37% since 1972. Only 6% of 11th graders in 1986 could solve multi-step math problems. 60% did not know why The Federalist was written. 75% did not know when Lincoln was president. Only 1 in 5 knew what Reconstruction was. (Source.)
Another indication of the failure in American education is the amount of remedial education necessary in colleges and universities. 40-60% of college freshmen are placed in remedial education courses, costing $1 billion annually. Students who take these classes are less likely to graduate. (Source.)
The low quality of teachers in public schools in America is both a cause and a symptom of overall educational decline. In 1999, nearly 30% of new teachers in New York State had SAT scores in the bottom third. In 2000, SAT and ACT scores of the typical new teacher were in the 42nd percentile, though they rose a little to reach the 48th percentile by 2008, and by 2010, more teacher in New York had top SAT scores. However, the academic skills of teachers going into private elementary education have actually fallen since 1993. This data is echoed nationally. “It has long been known that the academic abilities of new teachers declined from the 1960’s through the 1990s.” (Source.)
On the 2015 PISA, which is a measure used to compare academic performance of 15-year-old students from different countries, the United States declined in all areas. In reading, the US ranked 24 out of 72 countries or regions. In math, we ranked 36th. In science, we ranked 28th. All of this is despite the fact that the US is among the top nations in per-pupil funding. (Source.) (Image from Huffington Post).
As educational outcomes tank, costs skyrocket. College tuition, net of subsidies, was 11.1 times higher in 2015 than in 1980. In private education, pre-K through secondary, costs were 8.5 times higher. In public schools, the rise was 4.7 from 1980 to 2013. (Source.)
Correlation does not equal causation, of course. Just because American academics have declined since the Postmodern theories came to prominence in education does not mean that the former was caused by the latter. And there are likely many factors at play in the decline of test scores, not least of which is technology addiction. However, the correlation between falling academic performance and the introduction of Postmodernism, neo-Marxism, and related philosophies in America is certainly noteworthy and should at least be a part of our national conversation. And we should at least consider the possibility that the breakdown of education is connected to these radical philosophical and educational changes (I would say corruptions) that took place in the 20th century.
Let me conclude with some anecdotal evidence:
“The intellectual foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people ... If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”
—A Nation at Risk, U.S. Department of Education, 1984
“Unfortunately, the dumbed-down education of previous generations means that many parents today see nothing wrong with their children being manipulated in school, instead of being educated.”
—Thomas Sowell, Ph.D
“In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.”
“The sad fact is that because students are not college-ready, colleges are dumbing down their curriculums to be student-ready.”
—Charles Ormsby, professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“Far too many of today's college students have difficulty writing a simple declarative sentence let alone a coherent paragraph. ... In [the classes I teach] perhaps a third of the students can write decent prose. Another third can write sentences that can be understood with a little imagination on the part of the reader. However, a good third of the students write so poorly that it is difficult to understand what, if anything, they have on their minds.”
— Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
“Many of our freshmen arrive at college, after 12 years of school (presumably in the 'college track'), knowing nothing of the pre-Plymouth past, including the Bible. All too frequently, they have not heard of Aristotle, Aquinas, Luther, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Burke, or Marx. They often know nothing of the deterioration of Athens and Rome, of Czarist Russia and Weimar Germany, and next to nothing of the history of science, technology, industry, of capitalism and socialism, of fascism and Stalinism, of how we found ourselves in two world wars, or even in Vietnam. They have been asked to read very little and to reflect hardly at all. At 18 or 19, they are unarmed for public discourse, their great energy and idealism at the mercy of pop politics and the seven o'clock news.”
—Paul Gagnon, University of Massachusetts
“The college model is broken. It costs too much. It promises too much. It is content to let people graduate with a degree in grievance studies and a minor in ferret husbandry.”
— James Lileks
“Almost all the really terrible ideas that blight contemporary America started on campus.”
—Peter W. Wood, president, National Association of Scholars
(Many more such quotes can be found here.)
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