We face a unique challenge in our nation. As our technological age advances with the skills required for employment increasing, our educational system is failing millions of children being unable to acquire these necessary skills. The result is a lack of productivity and an ever-increasing impoverished underclass requiring a greater transfer of wealth, causing a relatively stagnant national economy. In essence everyone is poorer as a result. The evidence is clear. As written by Kate Barrington in 2019, “According to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 50% of the public-school population in the United States was made up of low-income students. This is a significant increase from 38% in 2001. This is a nationwide problem with 40% of public-school students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches in 40 states. In 18 of those states, student poverty rates were over 50%. Studies have shown that low-income students tend to perform lower than affluent students and family income shows strong correlation with student achievement measured by standardized tests” (Ref.1,2). It is obvious that without effective schooling millions more children in our country will spend their lives in poverty unless a concerted effort is made to break this generational cycle. The unprecedented extended school closings of 2020/2021 as a response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic made this already untenable situation far worse. The federal government Covid relief packages addressed only trying to get the schools open, totally oblivious to the underlying educational crisis (Ref.3). Academic performance on international testing sadly revels our educational mediocrity (Ref.4). However, these are average scores that do not emphasize the dichotomy of different groups. Many of our K-12 students are equal to the best in the world; our problem is that we have many more who are doing very poorly.
The irony of our spendthrift federal government, with a Congress that has not completed a budget in decades, is that with our present educational system, there will be a continuously smaller fraction of our population able to repay our burgeoning federal debt. Even more ironic, in our present political dialogue about systemic racism and other societal evils, NOTHING is mentioned about the fundamental problem: inadequate education for many millions of children of ALL races and ethnicities to obtain the skills necessary to break out of poverty. The many entrenched forces in education – the teacher unions, colleges and university experts, school boards, local politicians with taxing authority – are bent on maintaining the status quo, even as the evidence is overwhelming that they are failing our children and our future
Should we as physicians be vocal about this educational failure? Should we care about the wellbeing of our children and the future of our country? The answer is a resounding YES. We are devoted to caring for the welfare of ALL in our nation. We should strongly encourage and support the many present alternatives that are being pursued to improve the educational system. We should also promote newer ideas that in the proper creative environment will be initiated.
- Kate Barrington, The 15 Biggest Failures of the American public Education System, Public School Review, May 28, 2019, available at: https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/the-15-biggest-failures-of-the-american-public-education-system (Accessed July 5, 2021)
- NCES – National Center for Educational Statistics, Educational Demographic AND Geographic Estimates, 2018-2019, available at: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/edge/Economic/NeighborhoodPoverty (Accessed July 8, 2021
- The Economist, Closing the world’s schools caused children great harm, June 24th, 2021, available at: https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/06/24/closing-the-worlds-schools-caused-children-great-harm (Accessed July 6, 2021)
- The Investopedia Team, What Country Spends the Most on Education? Investopedia, July 7, 2019, available at: https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/020915/what-country-spends-most-education.asp (Accessed July 8, 2021)