2020 will be a difficult year, I fear, with a Middle East war possibly imminent, with our country facing an upcoming presidential election, while our national partisan split gets sharper each day. Democracy seems even more fragile, and the possibility of losing it a frightening concept. Health care costs are still rising, drugs costs are escalating, and promises to “make things better” have flailed. Climate change is more apparent, now that parts of Australia are on fire and the Arctic ice is melting. And a terrible report came out a couple weeks ago on the state of K-12 education in our country: The last 20 years there has been little, if any, progress in math and reading scores.
I know this sounds so dystopian, but please bear with me for I do have some hope for 2020.
Education -- I’ll start with K-12 problems in California and this country. A couple of alarming report cards were issued recently about the reading and math abilities of our students nationwide -- that despite billions spent on helping students improve (“no child left behind,” “common core,” STEM education, new math, early childhood emphasis, team learning, etc.), the performance of 4th, 8th and high school students in these two areas has been stagnant since 2000, according to results of a rigorous international exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, issued by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency. The 15-year-olds who took the test scored slightly above students from peer nations in reading, but below the middle of the pack in math.
The top quarter of American students have improved their performance since 2012, but the bottom 10 percent lost ground. In California, a recent test showed the students continue to rank below their global peers. Just over half of public school students in 4th and 8th grades who took the state’s standardized English language arts test performed at grade level, while only 4 in 10 are proficient in math, according to data released in December by the state Department of Education. What’s the problem?
I don’t have an answer, since the problem seems so widespread. But if our quests for student achievement aren’t working, we have to try something else – an out-of–the-box approach, perhaps. Our teachers need more training, our schools can’t be lax on students and teachers, and we have to have new ideas.
Climate change -- Why is climate change so difficult for countries to understand and to act on? Governments have the power to do more. Is it because their economies trump all climate concerns? Why has climate change become such a partisan issue in this country, as we witness more and more droughts and floods and sea risings? I’ve always thought if one doesn’t believe in climate change, then not doing anything about it is bad if climate change is real. But if climate change is not real then doing something about it still will not hurt the planet. We all need to pressure our governments.
Health and drug costs -- Health care costs and drug prices keep on mounting. At least our politicians are talking about it now and realizing that people need health insurance and that we, as a country, have to help them get it. I always have found it appalling that so many Western countries for years have provided decent, and sometimes free, health care for their citizens while the U.S. is still limping its way to any permanent solution.
Middle East War --The emerging war in the Middle East is frightening – the greatest threat we’ve had in 50 years, one commentator proclaimed this week. It always seems politicians get involved in a tit-for-tat approach – “You did this to me so I have to do this to you to show you we are as powerful as you are” our international leaders say. So macho! – but I’m not impressed. Can we find some ways to talk before we fire, and then aim?
The November election – The next 10 months are going to be a fiery, argumentative, agonizing period, given our terrible partisan divide. Can’t we all start talking about our views more, see where we can agree and where we disagree, and figure out if there’s some way to compromise? I’ve discussed my differences with some friends and feel that while I agree they are right in some areas, they never concede I am right about anything. That is not the way to compromise.
So, try to have a Happy New Year and let’s try hard to work things out. We -- you and me – can make things better. I don’t know what else to hope for.