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The So-Called High Failure Rate of Public Education

As a woman who's homeschooled her kids since birth, I'm usually the last one to speak out in defense of our public education system. But sometimes the representation of the data is just too egregious to let pass by without investigation and comment.  



You probably get a bunch of free, unsolicited magazines like I do. You know the ones, the publications from Costco or AAA or professional associations. The ones you rarely, if ever, read.

I happened to flip through one lately that came from our local town association. It’s called “Inside Reston” and apparently it’s quarterly though this might be the first time I opened it rather than dropping it directly into my recycling bin.

I landed on an article on page 14 called “Pre-K is a Wise Investment” by Cathy Hudgins, a 14-year member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. In the article she makes a case for expanding public school to include pre-kindergarten for all children.

While I personally don’t believe in this strategy, I understand her point and am willing to follow along with her train of thought.

Until her train of thought really jumps the tracks.

Hudgins writes:

In 2013, Mission Readiness, “a nonpartisan national security organization of more than 450 retired admirals and generals calling for smart investments in America’s children,” issued a report, Pre-K Around the Beltway, which contrasted access to pre-kindergarten programs among the municipalities of the Washington, DC metropolitan area. This report was unique in that it was not authored by educators but rather by a group of retired military officers.

Why would pre-kindergarten programs be of concern for our military? The report estimates that 75 percent of all young Americans are unable to join the military, and poor educational skills are the leading reason. The authors identify the link between early school success and opening the doors to college, careers, and military service success later in life. “Without enough skilled men and women available to serve in tomorrow’s armed services, we endanger the future strength of our military.”


If the fact that 75% of young Americans aren’t qualified to join the military doesn’t concern you, frankly I don’t know what’s wrong with you. That’s a staggering statistic.

It’s one that stuck with me for a couple of days, and finally I brought it up for discussion with my family.

“What do you think about that?” I asked.

“Unbelievable” one kid said.

“It can’t be true” another said.

I agreed, I could not fathom how so many kids these days could be receiving such a substandard education.

(Or are they?)

So Doug encouraged me to research that very issue, and I did.

But let’s look at some basic statistics first.

In 2013, the high school graduation rate across America was 80%.

Hudgins says that by the Mission Readiness study, 75% of young Americans can’t join the military, with their educational background being the leading reason.

Which means that only the top 5% of high school graduates are educationally prepared to join the military.

(Does this not sound like bogus information to you? It does to me.)

Let’s now consider this - that in 2013, 65% of high school graduates enrolled in college.

If 75% of American youths aren’t educationally prepared for the military, that means that by the same token, the vast majority of the kids entering college aren't prepared for that, either.

Seriously? This can’t be true. We know, just by a logical look at the data, that it’s not true.

If it is true, then the US has a much bigger problem than access to pre-kindergarten, wouldn’t you say? And if it really is true, then what exactly is the American higher education system built on, if only a small portion of the kids entering it are prepared to do so?

Except it’s not remotely true.

When you look at the actual Mission Readiness report you will easily find the “75% of young Americans unable to joint the military” statistic. But when you carefully read the data, a completely different picture emerges.

Nearly 60% of American kids aren’t able to join the military because of physical issues. These include obesity. That’s a serious threat, not only to the military, but to society and the health care system as a whole, no argument on the gravity of that situation.  But we want to increase homework and expand testing and lengthen the school day and school year to keep kids behind desks longer because *that’s* the way to improve health? Brilliant! (Not). And let’s cut PE and make kids pay to play sports while we’re at it, shall we? (Oh we already have? Oops.)

That 60% of kids with health issues also takes into account general disqualifying conditions like eyesight, hearing, asthma, etc.

So back to our 75% of unqualified kids, with 60% out due to medical causes, that leaves only 15% left for kids with other factors such as crime history and failing to meet educational requirements. We're talking about 15% of the original 75% that we started with. So the number of educationally unqualified kids is dwindling right before our eyes.

In fact the report spells out that 30% of potential recruits who take the test can not pass the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT).

Is this a serious issue? Sure. I’d agree on that.

But does it equate to the educational scare mongering that Hudgins uses in her Inside Reston article, implying that 75% of American youths are educationally unprepared to join the military?

Not one bit.

It’s no secret that I’m no fan of the public education system, or private one for that matter. It’s why I’ve opted my kids out for the past 12 years with four more years to go until my last child is finished with her high school education at home. Above all I’ve worked to develop critical thinking, logic, and creativity in my children, skills I think will serve them much better than regurgitating Standards of Learning ever will.

And the fact that my kids also called foul on the way the statistics were used in Hudgins’ article? It just might show I’m on the right track with my no-school-ever plan.

I’m all for improving public education for the greater good, we all stand to gain from that. But let’s at least be transparent about defining the problem, shall we?

And as an aside, the Mission Readiness report also states that starting in 2009, for the first time in 35 years the US military met all of its annual recruiting goals. So the fact is, the military isn’t actually looking to expand its enrollment numbers.

So do we even have a problem in the first place?  I’d call the misleading use of statistics among public officials the biggest problem on our hands in this case.




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