Lowering the Education Bar: Nevada and the U.S. shortchange students or are we becoming a Third World country?

Americans no longer expect quality from our public education system, and U.S. students now lag behind those from other developed countries.Americans no longer expect quality, much less excellence, from our public education system, and U.S. students now lag behind those from other developed countries. What’s happening in Nevada is a prime example of the dumbing-down of our public schools.

Nevada’s high school juniors have trouble passing the math proficiency exam that’s required for graduation. In fact, 70 percent of students failed the test when it was first given last spring. Faced with such an alarming statistic, did the Nevada Board of Education make an emergency effort to do some remedial instruction? No.

In March, they lowered the minimum passing score on the exam from 300 out of 500 to 242, and presumably everyone was happy. The failure rate went down, students’ self-esteem got a boost, and the school administrators were thanked by parents whose children would now be able to graduate… a real win-win, unless you’re concerned that our high school students aren’t learning math. Allison Serafin, the only one of the 10-member board to vote against lowering the passing score, was quoted in the press as saying, “In good conscience, I can’t send the message to students that instead of preparing you, we’ll just lower the score.”

Nevada’s high schoolers may not be learning math, but the Nevada Department of Education has learned how to use “creative” math to make the state’s graduation rate look better. Figures released in January showed that the Nevada graduation rate had increased from 63 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2013. Great news, until it was revealed that the department had told local school districts to stop counting students who transferred to adult education programs, even though this technique goes against the federally mandated method of calculating graduation rates. By treating these students as though they had moved out of state (or just disappeared), the rate went up. Another example of trying to make administrators look better without making any actual improvements. It’s no wonder Nevada ranks dead last among the 50 states in most education rankings.

This problem isn’t confined to Nevada, however. Although American students are learning less, thanks to “grade inflation” their GPAs are improving. One researcher found that the most common grade in the U.S. universities he studied was “A.”

The U.S. as a whole no longer puts a high priority on quality education. More than half a million high school students around the world took a standardized test in 2012 through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Of the 34 countries surveyed, U.S. students scored below average in math, ranking 26th. They were close to average in science (21st place) and reading (17th place). In a world that is growing more dependent on science and technology every day, how can the U.S. compete with other countries when their students are better educated, especially in science and math, than ours?

The dumbing down of America has other consequences as well. The U.S. has always been a leader in creative innovations — in products like the airplane and the personal computer, in processes like the assembly line, and in the arts, such as the motion picture industry. We need educated citizens to produce the next generation of inventions and breakthroughs.

Here’s another thing to consider … uneducated people might lack the tools to think critically, to analyze arguments logically and to apply the lessons of history to the problems of today. That makes them the ideal electorate for a government that doesn’t want anyone to realize the long-term consequences of what it’s doing today. Dumbing down the voters starts with dumbing down the education system.

It’s time to show that we value education, in Nevada and throughout the U.S., before it’s too late.

By Whose Authority?

For more information on my Commentary and to see some of the backup research, or if you wonder why I take the position I take, go to www.LyleBrennan.com.