Let me ask you: Can you remember a debate in which some moderator did not bring up poor math/science scores? Schieffer says the problem is an "obvious" one. Seems to me that it's not, considering that it keeps coming up, again and again. Here's the truth: America is best in the world at education the students that America WANTS to educate. When you exclude the children that no one cares about educating, U.S. scores exceed the world by every measure. Now, who are the kids that no one wants to educate? Well, I'll put it this way: there's a reason that hearing John McCain call education a "civil rights issue" sets my hypocrisy alarm off.
Personally, I'm not saying that McCain's in the wrong on this one. Or Democrats, Republicans, teachers, teacher unions, principals, Congress, presidential administrations (although I despise NCLB). But I think he makes a great point. The students that we don't care to educate are the ones with the crappiest education. We are failing, failing, failing in urban schools and specifically with minority and impoverished students (which would include many rural districts as well). This is evident in the way that the teachers are overworked until they are spent and either leave early (often for greener pastures), retire from classroom teaching, or continue to deaden their senses (there are, of course, remarkable people who stay on and enlarge their profession and everyone benefits. But few and far between...). Pressure is everywhere put on already burdened teachers - especially new teachers who have and then waste all this energy. It's just not sustainable.
What we need is a full-frontal attack. Not regulations that have elementary teachers constantly teaching to the test for most of the year (the ramifications will be evident when our inner city schools - which are already behind - produce more students who were not taught to think during those formative years); not shutting down schools to start from scratch (at least not necessarily, and certainly not as a threat); not blaming teachers/parents/principals/students. Solutions to these problems could be as simple and yet effective as running clinics like those run by the Harlem Children's Zone that teaches parents how to raise their kids so that they would have the best options (their so-called Baby College is a series of early education workshops for parents where they teach clear and proven skills like, "Read regularly to your kids," and, "Spanking the children teaches them to use force to resolve differences" and "Put your child first so that she will succeed"). We need to do simple stuff like open more urban (and rural) preschools and doing early intervention. How about encouraging corporations and small businesses to sponsor high schools (not, in any case, exclusively, but as one of many)? How about introducing students to various levels of thought and industry in a hands-on method early on? Empowering churches, synagogues, mosques, non-profits, etc. to do more direct and unified community outreaches (after-school programs or homework assistance, for instance) that are less sectarian and more pro-student.
And then there's the money. Many urban (and rural, for that matter) school buildings are run-down and the teacher-to-student ratio is 1:30 in Chicago (sometimes much, much higher). You invest in that you truly care about. In Chicago we are losing 400 million dollars that should be set aside for schools each year to pet projects for industries (TIFFs). Our future is being flushed down the toilet so that Trump and Boeing will consider doing a few more years worth of business in the city and so that developers will keep having unfettered access to clear out the poor. That is bad business. That is bad economics. That is bad humanity.
The children of poor and minority families are suffering because we don't care enough to put them as high enough of a priority. And that's a shame on all of us. All. Of. Us.