by SIDHANT KHANNA
India Post News Service
"America's high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don't just mean that
our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded-though a case
could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean that
our high schools-even when they're working exactly as designed-cannot
teach our kids what they need to know today. This isn't an accident or a
flaw in the system; it is the system."
- Bill Gates
Even as Indian American kids continue to amaze the world with their
dominance in education and the 'Bee' competitions, a simultaneous drop
in Native American education has reached alarming proportions.
About 30 years ago, American educationists would have sworn by the
system and its products. Their students were the best, making their mark
worldwide. They were a source of pride for USA.
The scenario today is however not satisfactory. According to the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the
world's richest country's students are ranked 24th for math. Not only
are they placed lower than advanced countries like Canada, Germany,
France and South Korea but also under developing and poorer countries
like Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.
The question arises, what purpose does an educational curriculum
designed in 1956 serve students passing out in 2006.
On the Oprah show, Bill Gates said, "Millions of kids are dropping out.
Of minorities, half drop out. Overall it's about a third (of the total
This should be a bigger concern than Iraq for the Americans. What good
is fighting for your people in foreign lands if you cannot be sure they
can take over that responsibility from you?
A dropout is bound to face some serious problems of unemployment. As
Gates put it, "There won't be jobs for those kids. It's a bad thing for
them. It's a bad thing for the country." His wife, Melinda Gates
reiterates that America's standing in the world will slip with an
undereducated workforce. Overall, it's not a concern for just USA; other
countries like India, Israel, China and Russia will face a bigger
disaster. India and Israel look to the US for enhancing trade and
regional security. A fallow American workforce and leadership will not
be able to prevent the propagation of fundamentalism and anarchy in most
developing nations since they, too, depend largely on the US for
stability, security and finance. The part of the world that currently
despises America's 'policeman attitude' will swear they were better off
Even those making it to college are involved in some kind of 'remedial
work'. They account for over 40 percent of total college students. They
are ill prepared for college and have their basics wrong.
A Time magazine report underlines some alarming facts. More than one
million American students drop out of school per annum which means one
student drops out every nine seconds!
According to an Oprah Show poll, 62 percent of the respondents said the
government should forbid students who are under 18 from dropping out. In
most states, 16-year-olds are legally permitted to dropout. To counter
dropout rates in the state of Indiana, a new law will strip driver's
licenses and work permits of children under the age of 18, who dropout
unless they have legitimate health, financial or legal reasons for
In Oprah's report, Russlynn Ali, director, Education Trust West, warns
that factory jobs (the biggest availability for dropouts) won't be
around much longer. Many companies are moving their factories to foreign
countries and outsourcing jobs because American workers are lacking
basic job skills. "Poorly trained workers and high school dropouts are
products of the "cycle of low expectations" in America's public
schools," Ali says. "Students rise to expectations, and they fall to
Schools with leaky roofs, exposed steam pipes, crumbling ceilings and
inoperable bathrooms might be something Americans expected to find only
in a third world country. CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper, reported
from a school where these deplorable conditions are commonplace. This
school is just minutes from the White House. The sign in front of this
Washington, D.C., high school reads 'The Pride of Capitol Hill'. An
'American Story', is this? Certainly not the one that Brad Pitt mentions
in 'The Devil's Own'.
"I believe, just as I know all of you watching believe, that every
American child deserves the best school," Oprah says. "If you've watched
this show today, and you realize that your child is one of the children
who is not getting the best that this nation has to offer or if you are
concerned about what's happening to other kids in this country, go to
Jonathan Kozol, an author, educator and activist, is one of public
education's most vocal critics. In his book, The Shame of the Nation,
Kozol compares the current state of the American school system to South
"We are now operating a school system in America that's more segregated
than at any time since the death of Martin Luther King," he says.
"Racial segregation has come back to public education with a vengeance."
Going by Kozol, the average African-American and Latino 12th grader
currently reads at the same level as the average white seventh grader.
The blame game has started. The poll suggests no clear consensus on who
is most to blame. About 24 percent blame lack of funds. About 21 percent
put the blame on parents.
The movement to defeat the 'silent epidemic' may has gathered momentum
due to the efforts of Oprah and Bill Gates but the real results depend
on the federal government's action. This is a problem that needs to be
solved soon enough since the new generation might be getting ready to
ride the horses that lead the American arrangement.