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By the Numbers: Is the U.S. education system too big to fix?

September 29, 2011 by Paige Scofield


Editor's Note: By the Numbers is a new feature of Constitution Daily that extracts thought-provoking data from the news. Whether you're following us in school, at your place of work, or at home, By the Numbers provides data you can use to shape an opinion or start a civic conversation.
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Former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander’s recent editorial on No Child Left Behind got me thinking more deeply about education reform and why it is so difficult to improve test scores. An astounding 80 percent of schools will probably not measure up to the yearly benchmarks set by the 2001 law. Part of the problem is the sheer magnitude of the education system. Here’s how big it is, By the Numbers:

$525 billion – cost for public schools this school year98,800 – number of public schools in 2009-201049.4 million – students in public schools this year52.7 million – expected student enrollment by 20208% – public school teachers who left teaching in 2008-200961.5% – black public school students who graduated from high school within 4 years in 2007-2008.3.2 million – number of public and private school students who will graduate this year33% – difference that 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree had in full-time employment over those without high school diplomas in 201027 – point difference of white student scores over black students on the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment in 2009

    As I dug through numbers gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics, each more eye-opening than the next, the one that surprised me the most (and not in a good way), was the last one. Not only is the gap much wider than I might have predicted, but this number raises questions about what underlying causes result in educational discrepancies between white and black students. Boosting test scores will not have one simple solution.

    Do you find these numbers as startling as I did? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

    Paige Scofield is Programs and Communications Coordinator at the National Constitution Center.

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