Oprah Winfrey recently used two days of her program to highlight the crisis in American public schools, focusing attention on our appalling dropout problem. The visuals were quite stunning.
In one segment, a group of inner-city Chicago students traded places with a group of suburban students to compare facilities and curriculums. In another, a valedictorian from a rural high school told of needing remedial classes in college. Perhaps most striking of all, CNN’s Andersen Cooper toured a high school near the White House that was in a shameful state of disrepair. Pieces of the ceiling had fallen on the ground, holes in the roof let rain pour into the school, restrooms were inoperable and unlit.
Oprah deserves a good deal of credit for putting a spotlight on these problems. Public schools face a dropout problem of stunning scale. Estimates from the Manhattan Institute put the nation’s dropout rate near 30 percent, with rates much higher among low-income and minority students. Many who do graduate do so without mastering high-school level material, as evidenced not only by the need for remediation among college students, but also in the stunningly poor literacy skills of the public.
National reading tests show that 38 percent of our fourth-graders score “below basic” in reading, meaning that they have failed to gain the basic literacy skills necessary to function academically. These students will drift into middle school, and literally be unable to make heads or tails of their textbooks.
via Andrew Rotherham:
Matthew Ladner, of steak dinner fame, weighs-in in the Philly Inquirer about what the Oprah hype all means. You can disagree with Ladner’s advocacy of vouchers but he nails the macro-problem here: