Yet another generous grant from the Department of Education. Not that I have a particular problem with making radio easier to utilize for those with physical challenges, but I’m not quite sure that is something that the Department of Education should be passing out tax-payer money for, particularly when the primary goal, or what would seem to be the primary goal to us less bureaucratically minded common folk — that of educating children effectively — has yet to be met.

The United States is falling further behind the industrialized nations in math and science. Far enough behind that our 12th graders scored near the bottom of recent international testing for math and science literacy. Of 21 nations, US students surpassed only the students from Cyprus and South Africa. We came dead last in physics. In the 2003 International Math Exam, our 15-year-olds placed 29th out of the 34 nations participating in the testing.

Functional illiteracy is on the rise. In fact, many studies in recent years point to the astonishing number of college students simply are unable to process complex ideas. One recent study, cited in a Associated Press report from the beginning of this year, found that “more than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.”

What I found even more disturbing was some of the tasks that were deemed complex. Among these were “interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.” Shockingly, “comparing the cost per ounce of food” fell into the complex category. (So, while busy learning in junior high how to put condoms on produce, they never learned to figure out the price per condom in a box of 12.) 

My mother taught me unit price shopping skills while still a child. When shopping with my 5-year-old and 7-year-old, we routinely break down the cost per ounce (or appropriate measurement) in making purchasing decisions. “Ladies, let’s figure out how many bubble baths you’ll get out of this one with the simple packaging and that one with the character shape that has caught your eye and how much each bath will cost. Which do you think is the better choice for us? What is it that you really want here — more bubble baths or a fancy bottle that will soon be empty?” I file that in the math and life skills portion of our education plan and can’t imagine how such an operation could be considered complex. Perhaps that is part of America’s education problem. 

All things considered then, it should come as no surprise that industry leaders are becoming increasingly dismayed at how ill-prepared the work force that they have to choose from is. According to a December 2004 New York Times article, “a third of employees in the nation’s blue-chip companies wrote poorly and… businesses were spending as much as $3.1 billion annually on remedial training.” Remedial writing for executives and management, those supposedly entering with some education — stunning. According to studies done this year and reported widely earlier this month, employers report widespread deficiencies in critical thinking skills, basic academic skills, and a general, overall lack in the skills necessary to enter the workforce and perform successfully.

According to the Heritage Foundation, when it comes to the Department of Education, “64 percent (47 out of 74) of programs [are] “not performing.” Only 2 of these programs were deemed “effective.” Again, the Department of Education is not performing even remotely up to par.

Does it not make sense, then, that its resources — tax dollars — should be used to educate effectively before being shifted out into grants for non-essentials? (Oddly enough, yet another thing I was taught in childhood and have taught my own since the very beginning of our conversations about money and how we spend it — essentials first, needs before wants.)

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