It is no secret that the public education system in the United States lacks quality and is largely inefficient. It has become a big part of political campaigns on all ends of the spectrum, but are we focusing on the right things? Feminists and teachers unions are more than just factors in this equation: they’re a massive part of the problem, if not the single largest contributors to it.
Firstly, it is important to note that the focus of last year’s exam was specifically science education. Why is that? As noted on the summary page:
“An understanding of science, and of science‑based technology, is necessary not only for those whose careers depend on it directly, but also for any citizen who wishes to make informed decisions related to the many controversial issues under debate today.” [emphasis mine]
The problem is that the U.S. has made virtually no improvements in science education since the last time that was the focus, in 2006. More than a decade ago. In fact, we are barely sitting above the international average of participating Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations. Our students are ranked 27th in science, and an even more unimpressive 35th in math.
A cohort of students from the District of Columbia entering high school as freshmen in the 2010–2011 school year were tracked for the following four years to determine the total number of students who would graduate with a diploma during the 2013-2014 academic year. Their graduation rate ended up at 61.4%. Similar to the rate of 61.5% for the previous academic year. This means that more than ⅓ of their students currently are not graduating. The African-American student graduation rate remained static at an even lower total of 59.8%. Only 10% of D.C. students overall met proficiency standards in math, and that number for black students is around 4%.
It should go without saying at this point that the quality of public education in the states is not the best, but what about the “equality” that we hear so much about? Afterall, the U.S. has shown the largest improvements in the area of equity alone. Despite the continuous efforts to “diversify” the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, the data consistently shows that the biggest contributing factor to this “underrepresentation” of females in STEM is due to their own college major and career preferences.
“Gender related differences in science engagement and career expectations appear more related to disparities in what boys and girls think they are good at and is good for them, than to differences in what they actually can do.” [emphasis mine]
An article in Forbes by Kathleen Hunker, a policy analyst with the Center for Economic Freedom at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Vance Ginn, Ph.D., an economist from the Center for Fiscal Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, plainly states that women are “more likely to major in the humanities, which pay less than math and engineering degrees.” This is a variable that proponents of the mythical gender wage gap also tend to completely ignore.
According to the OECD data:
“While between 2006 and 2015 no country or economy improved its performance in science and equity in education simultaneously, the relationship between socioeconomic status and student performance weakened in nine countries where mean science scores remained stable. The United States shows the largest improvements in equity during this period.” [emphasis mine]
Wait a minute. If the link between socioeconomic status (an actual disadvantage) and student performance has weakened in several countries, the United States has made the strongest improvements in this area, and the gender gap in STEM education and jobs is overwhelmingly due to choice? Then why are we continuing to focus so much time and energy on “diversity” and “equality” rather than producing good quality, when we are academically ranked near the middle-bottom of the other OECD nations?
On average, the U.S. spends $11,700 per student at the elementary and secondary level; which happens to be thirty-one percent higher than the average of $9,000 for the other OECD member countries. We also have the highest rate of post secondary expenditures per student at $26,600, a level seventy-nine percent higher than the $14,800 average.
How is all this taxpayer money being spent, you ask? Overwhelmingly on instructors. Just look at the following table. Isn’t it interesting that our students rank so low internationally, despite the fact that we spend more than most other countries on the instructors?
We must recognize who the most powerful force behind the “education” system in the states happens to be. It isn’t the students, the parents, nor the taxpayers. It’s the teachers. At least, those who are members of large labor unions. Stanford University political science professor, Terry Moe, explains in a PragerU video that it is a complicated scenario but what “lies at the heart of it” is none other than the power of the teachers unions such as the National Education Association, the world’s largest “professional employee organization” that boasts about three million members. The American Federation for Teachers is another example, comprised of about 1.6 million members. Both of these organization also have thousands of state and local affiliates across the U.S.
More than just the driving force behind American education, they are special interest groups. The entire purpose of any labor union, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of the term, is “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions.” Why on earth would anyone expect their motivating factors to be the improvement of education itself? Would they really want to make their jobs more difficult? Because that is exactly what the much-needed improvement would require.
In fact, the number one country in science education, Singapore, puts very high standards on their teachers. Vice president of Nanyang Technological University, Professor Sing Kong Lee, says that “Singapore invested heavily in a quality teaching force – to raise up the prestige and status of teaching and to attract the best graduates.” If you want to be a teacher in this country, you would have to be recruited from the top 5% of graduates. Yes, five. When Singapore became an independent nation in just 1965, they had a largely poor, unskilled, and illiterate population. Focusing on improving education from the very beginning, they now hold the international championship for science education.
It is important to note that the country does have labor organizations such as Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU). However, it is necessary to distinguish the difference between them and the brand of unions we have in the United States. Former Singapore International Teaching Associate, Andrew Linford (himself a member of a U.S. teachers’ union), admits that “Although Singapore does have a teachers’ union, it has very little importance or power. Without collective bargaining rights or the ability to strike, it functions as a professional organization with workshops.”
American teachers’ unions, on the other hand, are far more powerful. They do hold collective bargaining rights. What does that mean? Collective bargaining is defined by Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute as “negotiations between an employer and a group of employees so as to determine the conditions of employment.” Resulting in, of course, a collective agreement. On the surface, this may not seem half bad. But if you consider the fact that the majority of education funds via taxpayers go to instructors, and the fact that we spend more per pupil than most other nations in doing so, one would think that the investment would be paying off. That is obviously not the case.
These unions advocate for seniority (rather than performance) based pay, oppose the use of test scores in teacher performance evaluations, and rally against reforms such as universal school choice that would allow parents to take their children to the school of their preference rather than the decision being mandated according to the location in which they live. None of this is beneficial for the students, and all of it contributes to us having such a low ranking in the world for our education system.
The American left needs to stop focusing so much time and energy on the mythical gender inequality in STEM education, diversification, and protecting teachers who are not providing your own kids with the quality education they deserve. Start looking at how we can actually improve this mess. One of the most crucial elements to turn our attention to is the instructors themselves and the labor unions who protect them. These unions are only acting in their own self-interest and are doing a great disservice to our entire nation in the process.