NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restructuring Public Education for the 21st Century

February 24, 2012

American public education needs a complete restructuring in order to support the development of critical thinkers ready to assume their positions as productive citizens of a free society.  Neglecting to change the system will only contribute to America losing its position as the leader of the free world, says Linus Wright, an undersecretary of education during the Reagan administration and senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • Students in dozens of other countries, including China, South Korea, Germany and Finland, outperformed American students in reading, math and science, according to the Program for International Student Assessment results released in December 2010.
  • The United States ranked 23rd in science, 17th in reading and -- worst of all -- 31st in math.

These results suggest that the United States is in need of a public education makeover.  Indeed, students are inadequately prepared in elementary and middle school for academic success in high school. 

  • Consider, 75 percent to 80 percent of urban children begin kindergarten with inadequate to non-existent vocabulary for learning.
  • Over time, many become discouraged and drop out, leaving the United States in the unenviable position of having one of the highest dropout rates in the world -- the United States' secondary education graduation rate was 76 percent in 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); six percentage points behind the OECD average of 82 percent.

America must move away from its antiquated agrarian system of education -- a six-hour school day and a 180 day school year will not and cannot compete with other industrialized nations whose students meet higher academic standards, have better prepared teachers, spend 30 percent to 50 percent more time in class, and are supported by a parental culture that expects and requires more from their children, says Wright.  In addition, the United States needs to seriously consider how to improve academic achievement for low-income and non-English speaking students.

Important reforms include:

  • Early childhood education.
  • Eliminating the 12th grade.
  • Moving vocational education to community colleges.

Source: Linus Wright, "Restructuring Education for the 21st Century," National Center for Policy Analysis, February 23, 2012.

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