How has the United States responded to this global challenge in education? We continue to lower our standards. While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a major step in education reform, it has inadvertently created a system where states continue to lower the expectations bar. In 2007, only 18% of Mississippi students scored proficient in the standardized national reading test. However, 88% scored proficient in the standardized state reading test. While Mississippi can be considered an extreme, a Department of Education report acknowledged, “state-defined proficiency standards are often far lower than proficiency standards on the NAEP.” While under this system test scores have improved slightly, our student’s education level has remained constant. As states are under enormous pressure to show improvements in test scores, standards are lowered. While politicians avoid future trouble, our children inherit it.
Even our once seemingly monopoly on higher education has eroded in recent years. While ranking 2nd in the world in older adults with a college diploma, the U.S. has slipped to 8th in the world in young adults with a college diploma. As other countries continue to provide numerous incentives for their students to attend universities, the United States seems content in allowing higher education to climb ever higher out of the reach of ordinary Americans. Furthermore, China and other Asian countries have created a higher education system that is far more useful in equipping its students with the needs to survive in a 21st century economy. More than 50 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded in China are in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, compared to just 16 percent in the United States. While we are focused on creating litigators and lawyers, China and our competitors are creating the entrepreneurs and engineers of the future.