Sixty-eight percent of eighth graders in the U.S. can’t read at grade level. 1.2 million teenagers drop out of school every year. And 44 percent of dropouts under age 24 are jobless. These statistics, from the Broad Foundation for Education, are grim.
And the children are the ones who suffer: Not only are their long-term prospects for employment and economic stability jeopardized, they also miss out on the joys of learning and the relationships with peers and adults that develop in a supportive, structured learning environment.
Few people disagree that all this is a problem. But the solution? Well, there’s Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg giving $100 million to the Newark Public School System. There’s Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education, who is using empirical data to drive change and is taking on teachers’ unions. The New York Times Sunday Magazine recently devoted an entire issue to the role of technology, reporting that students will perform better via smart pens, video games in the classroom, and proficient Internet use. Time ran a cover story this summer in which the author claimed that summer vacation accounts for the learning gap between lower- and higher-income students. Time addressed education once again last week in “What Makes a School Great,” which emphasized the importance of hiring the right teachers. David Brooks similarly identifies teachers as the solution in July’s Atlantic.
So is it more money? Computers? Summer programs? Better teachers? Certainly each of these factors plays a role. But improving schools extends beyond policy and unions and technology. For those of us with school-age children, sending our kids to public school and developing relationships with others in the school — parents, teachers, and administrators — might be part of the solution.