CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A recent Rasmussen poll tells us that American voters have little confidence in our K-12 public schools. A mere 18 percent believe that most high school graduates have skills needed for college. (Sixty-one percent believe they don't have the skills and 21 percent aren't sure).
Lacking skills to succeed in college is a big-time problem for both the individual and society. In fact, it's problem enough to threaten a nation. High school graduates who aren't prepared for college also aren't prepared for the workplace, personal responsibility, civic duties or any of the other challenges they'll face in this increasingly fast paced, complicated, competitive, technological world.
To be fair, the perception that our schools are failing is hardly new. The annual PDK/Gallup poll tells us that in 2012 only 19 percent of the public gave our public schools a grade of A or B. Twenty years ago the number was 18 percent.
Is this lack of confidence in our K-12 schools deserved? What do the numbers tell us? And where do the solutions lie?
Let's start with simple facts about our K-12 system:
* It's big: 55 million students; 130,000 schools; 3.8 million teachers; and a budget of more than $500 billion a year.
* It's run by committee: Policy is dictated by all levels of government; influenced by still more (unions, think tanks, foundations, and businesses); and paid for by many (federal government, 8 percent, states, 46 percent, localities, 37 percent, and private sources, 9 percent).
* It's complicated: Educational opportunities and attainment are not self-contained, they're closely tied to factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, culture, and race.
Given this setup, it's tough to measure success or whether schools are getting better or worse. We receive mixed messages. On one hand, our high school graduation rate has increased by 5 percent since 2006 and we're on track to have a 90 percent rate by 2020. On the other hand, our 15-year-olds have a lower average math literacy rate than 17 other countries. While the public has little confidence in our schools generally, more than three-quarters give a grade of A or B to the school their oldest child attends.
But there's one set of facts that trumps all the other data. That's the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the nation's report card.