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Strengths and weaknesses of American education

; Bloomington Vol. 74, Iss. 8,  (Apr 1993): 613.

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The public education system in the U.S. has served this nation well. Today and in the future, it must meet unprecedented challenges. However, arguments about whether the performance of our students has declined over time miss the point. The 1990 Oldsmobile was better than any Olds made before. But was it good enough to meet worldwide competition in 1990? A similar question faces U.S. education: Are we good enough to stand up to worldwide competition?

The time is right to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. public education system. We need to build on its strengths and shore up its weaknesses. We know more than ever about how to do this, but serious questions remain about the resources we are willing to devote to the task and about our political will to get the job done.


INCLUSIVENESS. The U.S. K-12 education system as we know it today was created in the mid-20th century to serve all pupils for 12 years and not weed them out at an earlier age. Until very recently, this policy provided high retention rates compared to those of other nations. Since 1970, however, other industrialized nations (e.g., Great Britain, Australia, and Japan) have increased their retention rates dramatically. The inclusiveness of our system through high school is no longer the competitive edge it once was, although 88% of our young people have earned high school diplomas or the equivalent by age 25.

Nevertheless, we should strengthen our efforts at dropout prevention and expand the second-chance opportunities we offer to dropouts who wish to resume their schooling. The GED (General Education Development) program, broad access to community colleges, and high school adult education programs are parts of the U.S. system that are frequently overlooked. Moreover, their curricular standards are a concern and...