According to a new survey released by the testing organization ACT, three out of four students are not prepared for college. Their data suggests that these students will have to take at least one remedial course in math, science, reading or English.
Another new survey, this one from Phi Delta Kappa International (an educator association) and Gallup, shows that Americans know who to blame for this mess. It isn't teachers: The public is largely supportive of our nation's educators and three out of four respondents have ''trust and confidence in public school teachers.''
Instead, respondents believe that the inertia in our nation's school system and unwillingness to tackle the tough topics in education reform comes from teachers unions. Nearly twice as many people think that unions have hurt the quality of public education in America as have helped.
They have a point. Teachers unions have long conspired to stifle education reform and use political power to advance their own interests. Fortunately, the American public is starting to wise up to this trend.
For years, teachers unions have insisted that smaller classrooms are the key to student achievement. They've achieved the goal of smaller classrooms average class size has plummeted, from 26.9 students per class in 1955 to 14.2 as of 2007-08 but we haven't seen the desired results. We're actually going backward: In a survey of 34 developed nations, the United States ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.
Why did unions push so hard for smaller class sizes? Smaller class sizes mean more classes, more classes mean more teachers - and more teachers mean more union dues. Research shows little correlation between class size and student achievement, however.
Instead of paying a larger number of teachers a lower wage, we could pay a smaller number of better teachers a higher wage to turn the profession into a high-status one. In ''Handbook of the Economics of Education,'' Michael Podgursky found that if the teacher-student ratio had remained stable between 1980 and 2007 the average educator would have been making more than $78,000 by 2007. Instead, the average teacher made $52,578.
Of course, defining ''better teachers'' is another sticking point for unions, who insist on using seniority and advanced degrees achieved to determine how much money teachers earn rather than demonstrated proficiency. These initiatives are incredibly expensive: Researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller found that the U.S. spends around $8.6 billion on pay bumps for teachers with master's degrees despite the fact that studies have found no correlation between teachers holding advanced degrees and student achievement.
Paying for performance will not only help attract better candidates to the field of education, it will also help identify those teachers who should be removed from the workforce. Stanford's Eric Hanushek has found that replacing the bottom five to 10 percent of teachers with average educators would vault the United States to the top of the world rankings on international tests.
Teachers unions fight tooth and nail to prevent reforms. The American Federation of Teachers was recently caught red-handed bragging about watering down a reform in Connecticut that would give parents more input over how schools operate and defeating state legislators who opposed them.
Doubt their power at your own peril: Between 1989 and 2010, the NEA and AFT combined to contribute more money in federal elections than any other organization. Their $59.3 million in contributions put them in first place by almost $14 million. Ninety-five percent of their donations went to Democrats.
As Terry Moe notes in his ''Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools,'' that's just the tip of the iceberg. At the state level, union spending is even more outrageous. In 2008, for example, unions gave $5.4 million to national campaigns. But on the state level, they spent $61.8 million - $24.3 million to candidates and their parties and $37.5 million on ballot initiatives.
To prepare our kids for college, we need great teachers in every classroom being paid like the professionals they are. The only way to do that will be to weaken teachers unions. We've been given a clue on how to do so in Wisconsin, where the state union laid off 40 percent of its staff because new collective bargaining legislation has hindered its ability to collect dues. Imagine the amount of progress that could be made with a similar nationwide push.
Don't our children deserve at least that much?
Longwell is the director of communications at the Center for Union Facts.