Where Our Schools Could Use Help

Article excerpt

Think of Gerald W. Bracey as education's Chicken Little, except that his insistent - and endlessly ignored - warning is that the sky is not falling. American schools, he said again the other day, are not only doing as well as they ever have but also rank quite well in international comparisons.

He knows you don't believe that. Hardly anyone does - including President Bill Clinton who, in his State of the Union Address, called for a massive campaign to fix what, in Bracey's informed opinion, isn't broken.

"Consider his reading initiative," he says by way of illustration. "In the most recent international comparison of reading skills, American students finished second in the world among students from 31 nations. Their scores were exceeded only by kids in Finland, a tiny, homogeneous country with huge taxes and tiny worries about teaching Finnish as a second language. "And even the Finns couldn't match our best readers: the 90th, 95th and 99th percentiles of American students were the highest in the world. So what does Clinton propose? A program to improve our reading skills." Clinton also called for efforts to increase college attendance; just under two-thirds of our high school graduates are enrolled in college the following fall. Dreadful numbers? Clinton - and most of those who worry about our public schools - think so. What does Bracey think? "Clinton and Vice President Al Gore say that by the year 2000, 60 percent of all jobs will require advanced technological skills. I don't know where these numbers come from - and neither do the statisticians I spoke with at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their own projections in 1990 and again in 1995 showed that the greatest growth in jobs up to 2005 will be for such high-skill, high-tech occupations as cashiers, sales clerks, janitors and waiters. "And that's not a new trend. Five years ago, 31 percent of our college grads took jobs requiring no college. So what does the president propose? A program to produce more college graduates." Bracey, a research psychologist, has been pointing out in the Phi Delta Kappan for years that American schools need to change and improve. …