Thursday, June 21, 2012


According to the recently-released Business First rankings, my school district (Royalton-Hartland) hasn’t performed very well. In the latest study Roy-Hart ranked 62 out of 97 districts in Western New York, putting it in the 37th percentile. It was 9 out of 10 in Niagara County with only Niagara Falls seeing lower performance. In specific subjects it placed 47th (science), 50th (English), 56th (math) and 80th (social studies). The District also rated 80th in the number of graduates receiving advanced designations.

A lot of parents and community stakeholders will be right in saying some of the teachers and the education system itself (diluted by the morass of local, state and federal controls) are to blame, but they’d only be kidding themselves if they didn’t accept some of the blame as well. That’s because the most damning statistic in the report was Business First’s Achievement Index, which looks at a school’s performance as related to socioeconomic factors within that district (like income).

Despite having the 31st best quality of life in all of WNY, Roy-Hart students performed so poorly in the classroom that they ranked 93rd in achievement, 4 from the bottom. It’s an unexpected outcome because it’s always been assumed that the better the socioeconomic make-up of a community, the better the grades (highly-regarded Williamsville is the old stand-by when making such a claim). That simple – yet telling - statistic would lead one to label Roy-Hart’s students as major underachievers, a statement about households as much as classrooms.

Looking at Big Picture, though, it’s not so much that Roy-Hart is an anomaly, rather it’s a reflection of the norm: We have a nation of underachieving students.

If the theory that quality of life yielded better classroom performance, the United States would absolutely crush the rest of the world in public education. We aren’t. The United States sports the second largest economy in the world with a gross domestic product at $15.04 trillion (the European Union, in the first spot, sports a collective $15.4 trillion). The US remains $4 trillion ahead of the third-best (China) and $11 trillion ahead of the countries in fourth and fifth (India and Japan). Despite such a stellar quality of life, American students are lagging behind. In a 2010 study the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked our students 14th overall. Some of the countries ahead of us are South Korea (1), Canada (3), Japan (5), Australia (6) and Poland (12). This is despite the United States spending more per pupil (just over $11,000) than anyone else but Switzerland (which spends just a hair more than we). It should be noted that we spend a third more on education than first-ranked South Korea does.

I’ve written at length before at the collapse of the once-vaunted American education system under the weight of federal oversight (for something best left to local control with only minimal state input) and standardized testing (which begat teaching to the test and not to mastery of the subject). But, when you look at how the outputs just don’t match the inputs -- both here in our neighborhood and throughout our collective nation -- and the label of “underachiever” gets thrown around, the discussion needs to be expanded to include parental expectations of a kid’s learning and that child’s participation within the process.

Today’s parents – which include the second half of the Baby Boomers and my generation (X) – are, shall we say, a little “different.” The standards that their parents once set for their children (and their parents’ had set before them) seem to have been cast aside and replaced with a kinder, gentler approach to parenting which has yielded a generation of mentally, emotionally and intellectually weaker children all of whom contribute to America’s mediocre success in education and will, more than likely once these kids have aged, have the same effect on our economy, public policy and society.

In next week’s column we’ll look at some real world examples of the modern parents’ indifference to education and how that has contributed to what looks like a generation of underachievers.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 25 June 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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