Where We Stand: America's Schools in the 21st Century

Suzannah Herrmann, Ph.D.

 

Public Broadcast System
Aired Sept. 15 on WOSU

Ohio stood out on Sept. 15 when PBS aired Where We Stand: America's Schools in the 21st Century. The special's host, Judy Woodruff, used four Ohio schools to describe the current state of American education. Viewers should have come away feeling uncomfortable.

PBS visited Belpre High School in the eastern Ohio community of Belpre; Olentangy High School near Powell, north of Columbus; Pleasant Hill Academy in Cincinnati; and Metro High School in Columbus. Also included was the Harlem Children's Zone, an organization that provides social and educational services to thousands of children in Harlem in New York City. Woodruff posed five questions:

  • In today's global economy, are U.S. students ready to compete with those around the world?
  • What's the best way to get teachers into the schools and keep them there?
  • Are schools giving all our kids the skills that they need to succeed?
  • Is all of this testing doing any good?
  • What's the best and fairest way to fund our schools?

National experts, including Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr., provided some answers. Several striking points were made about the American education system. Students just are not ready to compete with their peers around the world. Particularly troubling was a segment concerning a Finnish student visiting the blue-ribbon Olentangy High School. She told the interviewer her studies were easy, and her junior year in the Buckeye State wouldn't even count toward her diploma in Finland. Also disturbing: America's ranking in producing college graduates compared to other countries has declined as college tuition has increased dramatically over the past decade, and the current new-teacher pool is pulled from lower-performing graduates. None of this is new but taken together paints an alarming picture.

All is not bleak. America is taking hopeful steps to improve its schools. The Metro School in Columbus was highlighted as a school delivering success. Pleasant Hill Academy stresses new-teacher professional development through a special mentoring program. In New York City, the Harlem Children's Zone emphasizes meeting the needs of all children by bringing together the efforts of the school and the larger community. Where We Stand shows us that there is still much work to be done to improve education, and these efforts can't be pushed fast enough to meet America's educational needs.

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