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A perspective on public education

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Having a spouse who spent 31 years in the arena of public education and two grandchildren in public education, I approach this subject with great respect and care. The more in-depth research I conduct on this subject, the more voluminous my lack of a depth of knowledge on the subject becomes.

No one would seriously argue with the thought that a quality education for all our children is the bedrock of our society and the securing of a free and prosperous nation. Thus, our system of public education must be of the highest priority.

The current picture of the U.S. educational system is a mixed bag. When one looks at how we, as a nation, stack up with other nations and how they rank in comparison to our system and its outcomes as measured by international standards, we have good reason to ask some hard questions.

According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, the average student in Singapore is 3.5 years ahead of his or her U.S. counterpart in math, 1.5 years ahead in reading and 2.5 years ahead in science.

Students in countries as diverse as Canada, China, Estonia, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore consistently outrank their U.S. counterparts in the basics of education.

What seems to be a part of the issue with such a status for U.S. education and its students?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation’s figures indicate that income inequality plays a large part in dragging down the U.S. scores and that America lags behind other countries in its ability to assist lower-income students.

Which begs the question if it is ever possible to fix our nation’s low academic test scores, especially in math, without first addressing poverty in the U.S. along with the government’s support for low-income families.

F. H. Buckley, professor at George Mason University said, “In math, we’re 38th in the world among developed countries in terms of how 15-year-olds perform. And it’s getting worse, not better.”

In 1990, the U.S. ranked sixth in the world for its level of education and health. That is now 21 spots ahead of where it currently sits in both fields!

Recently, Education Week Research Center gave North Carolina’s public schools the following scores: Chance of success – 77.9 (C+); school finance – 65.3 (D); and K-12 – 72 (C-).

According to the Public School Review, there are nine major challenges facing our public schools.

Classroom size: Many areas of the country are facing classrooms that are bursting at the seams.

Poverty: Technorati reported last fall that 22 percent of the children in the U.S. live at or below the poverty line.

Family factors: Divorce, single parents, poverty, violence and many other issues are all challenges students bring to school.

Technology: Tech must come into the classroom to keep up with the 21st century’s learning demands.

Bullying: Though not a new problem, it is one that has a profound impact on many students’ learning aptitude.

Student attitudes, behaviors: Many public school teachers cite student attitudes such as apathy and disrespect for teachers as a major problem.

Parental involvement: Often teachers find there is no happy medium when it comes to parental involvement. Some parents are not seen for the entire year while some seem to never go away.

Student health: Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and the same poor eating habits that led to the obesity problem may be contributing to lower student achievement.

Funding: Budget cuts have created huge problems for most public schools in recent years.

I fully realize I have only touched the surface of this very complex issue. There will be more columns addressing the issue of education as I continue to do research and interview local education professionals. I’ve begun to do research on the Johnston County school system and charter schools in the county regarding their impact on public education.

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” — John F. Kennedy

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.