Racial inequality in education may be keeping America back.

Unemployment is high these days, especially among unskilled workers, and it looks as if our nation’s schools are not preparing students for the global economy.

According to a study from the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, U.S. students lag behind many other countries in math and reading skills. African-American and Latino students, in particular, are falling way behind.

America’s 2011 high school graduating class gets a bad report card, and it reflects poorly on everyone. Only 32 percent were proficient in math and 31 percent in reading. A mere 11 percent of black students were proficient in math, as opposed to 50 percent of Asians, 42 percent of whites, 16 percent of Native-Americans and 15 percent of Latino students.

And in reading, only 18 percent of Native-American students, 13 percent of black students and 4 percent of Latino students were proficient, compared to 40 percent of white students and 41 percent of Asian students.

Compared to the rest of the world, the United States ranks 32nd in math. Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan and Korea have a majority or near majority of students performing at the proficient level, unlike in the United States.

Meanwhile in reading, the United States ranks 17th, with 10 countries significantly ahead. In Korea, 47 percent of the students are proficient in reading, with other high-ranking nations including Finland (46 percent), Singapore and New Zealand (42 percent), Japan and Canada (41 percent), Australia (38 percent) and Belgium (37 percent).

The bottom line is that the United States could have both smarter students and a higher GDP growth if it increased its math proficiency levels to that of Canadian and Korean students. In the long term, this could translate into an additional $1 trillion in the economy each year, the study said.

And although white students in the United States are also underperforming when compared to a number of other advanced nations, America will have to seriously grapple with an educational system that produces a large achievement gap based on race and ethnicity, and a pipeline to prison for youth of color.

This is not the blatant racism of hate crimes and racial epithets, but rather a silent, systemic, institutional racism that allows inferior schools to fester in poor, black and brown urban areas.

We need more investments in schools, at a time when tea party governors, state legislators and members of Congress seek to slash billions of dollars in funds to education.

Americans will rise and fall together based on whether all of our children are learning. Right now, they are not. And we can’t tolerate this any longer.

David A. Love is a writer based in Philadelphia, the executive editor of BlackCommentator.com and a columnist for theGrio. His blog is davidalove.com. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

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