President George Bush's speech in North Glen Elementary School on January 2006 - "I think the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the most significant accomplishments in education in a long, long time. I want to thank both the Republicans and Democrats who worked together back then to get this piece of legislation passed...," applause!!!
Well, as per the recently published 'Education at a Glance 2006' report of Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the cost of this American 'accomplishment' has been $12,000 (across primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education) per student per year. No doubt, President Bush's vision and the investments to realise this vision of 'No child left behind', has not only been noble but also a great example for countries like India where the foundations of education stand corroded, on account of lack of any vision. But, the report also states that there are other member nations, whose expenditure on education has been way below OECD averages, yet their 'accomplishments' (read 'performances') in Programme for International Students (PISA - which tests 15 year old students on reading, mathematics and science), has been very good. For the same program, the 'accomplishments' of American students had been clearly 'below average'. This group of statistics gives a poignant rebuttal to the exactitude of President Bush's 'most significant accomplishment' statement and sadly, also clarifies the fact that the amount of investment in the US has not had a respective bearing on educational output.
As a matter of fact, American expenditure on education had been on a consistent rise ever since World War-II. From an average annual investment of around $1,200 per student during World War-II to $12,000 by 2003, the expenditure has gone up by ten folds, yet the resultant change in student's performances have been virtually stagnant, particularly over the past three decades - invariably indicating that American investments in education have been by far misdirected.
Education aside, today's America is setting new standards on other fronts - drug abuse, single parenthood, teen pregnancy, youth delinquency, homicide, and suicide are rampant and ubiquitous. And these are some of 'the' very reasons of such below average student performances, as the institution of family - just like a school - is pivotal in shaping an individual. No matter how much is invested, a fractured family at best can give a fractured individual. So, howsoever benevolent the vision, blindly investing more and more in education, and that too in meaningless ancillary services like transport, meals, housing et al (US spends on an average double on these services than any other developed nation) is useless! Investments should rather be targeted towards meaningful social intervention. Till then to call anything 'the most significant accomplishment' is at best, over ambitious.