The Condition of Public Education in America

By Richard Meinhard and Matt Wingard

The U.S. Department of Education’s latest “Condition of Education” report is out, and the news is sobering for parents and taxpayers. Here are some highlights:

“¢ This year, public school enrollment is expected to approach about 50 million students. Total public school enrollment is projected to set new records each year from 2008 to 2017, at which time it is expected to reach 54.1 million.

“¢ Minority students make up 43 percent of the public school enrollment overall and 48 percent in the South and 55 percent in the West.

“¢ In 2005-06, about a third of Black students and a third of Hispanic students attended high-poverty schools compared with 4 percent of White students.

“¢ THE GOOD NEWS: Average reading scores of 4th- and 8th-graders were higher in 2007 than in 1992.

“¢ THE BAD NEWS: Average reading scores of 12th graders was lower in 2005 than in 1992.

“¢ THE REALLY BAD NEWS: Only 33 percent of 4th graders and 35 percent of 12th graders are proficient in reading.

“¢ THE GOOD NEWS: Average mathematics scores increased 27 points for 4th-graders and 19 points for 8th-graders between 1990 and 2007.

“¢ THE REALLY BAD NEWS: Only 39 percent of 4th graders and 32 percent of 8th graders are proficient in mathematics.

“¢ Among public high school students in the class of 2005, about three-fourths graduated on time.

College stats:

“¢ Since 1970, women’s undergraduate enrollment has increased over three times as fast as men’s. Currently, women make up 57 percent of undergraduate enrollment.

“¢ In 2006, young adults with a bachelor’s degree earned about $11,000 more than those with an associate’s degree, about $16,000 more than those who had completed high school, and more than twice as much than those who did not earn a high school diploma.

The full text of “The Condition of Education 2008,” along with related data tables and indicators from previous years, can be viewed here.

A few observations:

Clearly, great strides have been made in valuing and advancing female education. It may be time to focus more on why our boys are not thriving within the current system.

After years of reforms and tens of billions in increased education spending, tough questions need to be asked about accountability. While gains have been made in the early grades, schools do not seem able to sustain those gains through to graduation.

While these scores are nationwide averages, there are schools throughout the country (and in Oregon) that get noticeably better results. The leaders and founders of these schools prove every day that we don’t have to settle for the statistics listed above.


Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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