“Books are farms. Reading is harvesting. Talking about what you read is replanting.”

– Michael Masterson

 Just One Thing: American Teenagers Are Getting Dumber

Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars spent on government programs to improve primary and secondary school education, American students seem to be getting dumber.

Earlier this year, about 600,000 15-year-olds from around the world took a test (the Programme for International Student Assessment) that is given every three years to determine competence in basic knowledge and skills.

The results of the test were announced last week. The top 4 cities in reading all came from China: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.

In the country totals, Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong, Estonia, Canada, Finland, and Ireland were at the top. The United States was far behind, along with the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia.

Even more disappointing is that the results for US students have been going down since the test was initiated. This while students from poorer countries like Portugal, Peru, and Colombia are showing improvements.

This is not good news. But these rankings don’t convey how bad the situation is. Here’s a fact that does:

20% of American 15-year-olds that were tested last year had reading skills that were “less than what would be expected of a 10-year-old.” 

How can this be?

Education experts disagree, but one thing is indisputable: All of the expensive federal efforts that focused on low-performing students (including No Child Left Behind and the Common Core) have failed miserably.

The Common Core is the most recent of these efforts. It began almost a decade ago as a “national effort by governors, state education chiefs, philanthropists, and school reformers to enrich the American curriculum and help students compete with children around the world.”

Its priorities included increasing the amount of nonfiction reading, writing persuasive essays, using evidence drawn from texts, and adding conceptual depth in math.

That sounds sensible. And it might have worked. But once again, politics got in the way. The left opposed it because it “unfairly targeted” children of color. And some right-wing groups objected that it was an “unwelcome [federal] intrusion into local control of schools.”

So it fell apart. And left 20% of our 15-year-olds functionally illiterate.

I wonder how that’s going to work out.