Why many fail

As we saw in the previous section (Need), a significant % of US students are failing to get the education they will need to become as productive as our society will need them to be in the near future.

  1. More than 20% of the population fail to graduate from high school
  2. A significant % of high school graduates have an inadequate education. (Not many years ago it was reported that in NY, 70%+ of community college freshmen require remedial education to be able to do college level work which increases the cost of education as well as the college dropout rate.)
  3. Half of 4th grade students nationally are below grade level in 4th grade.
  4. Less than 20% of 4th graders are at full grade level in many city school systems.

Why do so many students fail to achieve 100%?

Why do so many students fail to fully master the fundamentals of education?  Why do so many eventually drop out from school or graduate with such poor skills/knowledge that they are unable to proceed with post-secondary education or training without first remedying what they missed in their education the first time around?  Why are so many unable to complete the post secondary education or training they need to get a high productivity job and become an effectively contributing member of society?

Ask teachers and most will tell you the primary cause for students failing to achieve full grade-level-mastery is due to a combination of the following:


Why is there such variance in the level of prior knowledge/skills and preparedness among students. Again, most teachers will tell you that while there are exceptions, this is generally a function of the student’s parents; more specifically, the socio-economic background of the parents or the majority of people among whom the student lives. In other words, poverty seems to be the biggest single factor for poor educational achievement. The following diagram uses the % of students that qualify for free or subsidized lunches as a marker for poverty.


Behind these differences in results are generally a number of other differences between these two classes of schools. One could almost call this a cultural difference.


This has resulted in a “chicken and egg” situation where most agree that it is parents that make the big difference in educational results, but there is disagreement what to do about it.

  1. Some feel it is the responsibility of the schools/teachers to turn out successful students regardless of the family situation of the student.
  2. Others feel it is the responsibility of the parents to deliver well-behaved, prepared and motivated students to the schools and if they don’t it is their problem and the problem of their children – not the schools or teachers.


A real chicken-and-egg situation


The answer in both cases is that we are not doing well enough.

  1. The attempts to remedy the problems in the families over the past 50 years have failed to dramatically change the macro situation of families in poverty in the US. In fact, the number of states with more than 50% of children qualifying for free or subsidized lunch quadrupled in the 10 years between 2001 and 2011.


  2. The past 50 years has seen additional $Billions put into education to the point that the US pays far more per child for education than most of the countries that achieve better results in education that the US.  Part of this is that much of the money for schools that are doing poorly goes to items other than education (dealing with the effects of vandalism, additional security needs, more counseling, etc.). That part that does go to education goes primarily to what we call the supply-side of education (teachers, facilities, administration, curricula, teaching methods, learning aids, etc.).  Almost none goes to the demand-side of education that is the real primary problem (the lack of demand, interest, motivation, etc. on the part of the students who are the only ones whose motivation really counts).  At the end of the day, it is what is learned and not what is taught that counts. 

The bottom line is that it is unlikely that all families will start to provide an equally effective learning environment for all students anytime soon, yet the need to minimize the % of students failing and maximize the % that graduate as fully competent, and confident, independent learners that will be able to learn anything they need at any point in their lives and who will become highly productive and contributing members of society continues.  Only so will the quality of life, the social peace and even our democracy be likely to continue for future generations.

How can we fix education to close the education gap and ensure ALL students get an adequate education?

The question is therefore, “How can we dramatically improve the educational outcome for ALL Americans in a relatively short time?”  Given that about half of all US students are behind grade level by 4th grade and less than 20% are at grade level in many US cities by 4th grade, this is a very big challenge indeed.

The next section presents a solution strategy for dramatically increasing the % of students that achieve 100% mastery of all fundamental core subjects.