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A British survey sponsored by the Sunday Times of London, for instance, found 42 percent of those surveyed were unable to add the menu prices of a hamburger, French fries, apple pie and coffee. One out of six British inhabitants could not correctly locate Great Britain on a world map.

From both official and media reports, the pattern of educational decline is evident in almost every Western country – places where excellence in public education was once taken for granted.

These dismal figures translate into an equally depressing economic scene. Internationally, the cost to business in lowered or wasted productivity, unemployment and crime is estimated at $300 billion annually. Businesses are forced to develop their own remedial programs to teach employees the basic reading, writing and computational skills necessary to function on the job.

There seems to be no shortage of ideas and theories on how to accomplish educational reforms. But these programs tend to create as many problems as they solve.

For example, after the crisis in education became headline news, America instituted “get tough” retention policies and added graduation requirements, on the assumption that a greater challenge for students would improve performance. The opposite occurred. The policies raised rather than lowered the dropout rate in some cities. The president of the American Federation of Teachers argued, “It’s ridiculous to raise the hurdle for kids who are unable to jump in the first place.”


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