Go read Gerald Bracey's 17th Education Report (pdf). Here is the how the whole education disaster started: our wrong-headed reaction to Sputnik (snippet):
U.S. News & World Report ran an interview with Bestor in late 1956 under the title “We Are Less Educated than 50 Years Ago.” After Sputnik, it brought him back for “What Went Wrong with U.S. Schools.” Bestor eschewed two common descriptors of life adjustment education — “flapdoodle” and “gobbledygook” — and said simply that, “in the light of Sputnik, ‘lifeadjustment education’ turns out to have been something perilously close to ‘death adjustment’ for our nation and our children. . . . We have wasted an appalling part of the time of our young people on trivialities. The Russians have had sense enough not to do so. That’s why the first satellite bears the label ‘Made in Russia.’”Update: PBS has a program on this very issue:
No doubt Bestor believed what he said. Many people believed it. But it was utter nonsense. The U.S. could have beaten the Russians by over a year. Dwight David Eisenhower chose not to.
TV Program Description
Original PBS Broadcast Date: November 6, 2007
On October 4, 1957, the Space Age dawned with the red hue of the Communist flag when the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite. Sputnik I stunned the world and spurred a surge in science education and innovation that changed our world forever. But was Sputnik I really a shock to America's leaders, and how close was the U.S. to getting into space first? NOVA draws on previously classified documents to tell the real story behind the opening chapter in the space race. (For more on the space race, see a time line.)
"Sputnik Declassified" counters the popular view that President Dwight Eisenhower and the American science and defense establishments were caught completely off guard; and that Eisenhower was so behind the times that even after the success of Sputnik I, he still failed to recognize the importance of space.
Interviewed on the program are noted historians such as Roger Launius and Michael Neufeld of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, and R. Cargill Hall, historian emeritus at the National Reconnaissance Office, the super-secret agency that operates U.S. spy satellites.
As NOVA shows, historians are beginning to realize that an elaborate strategic game was unfolding behind the scenes, with Eisenhower following a policy of divining Soviet military capabilities at all costs. By the early 1950s, the Russians were armed with nuclear weapons, and U.S. defense officials feared a Pearl Harbor-style surprise attack.
Espionage inside Soviet territory was nearly impossible, and reconnaissance overflights were vulnerable and also forbidden by international law, which left Eisenhower with only one technically feasible but as-yet unproven alternative: to spy on the Soviets from the seemingly fantastic realm of space.
Ironically, the administration's concerted efforts to conceal this long-range project may have allowed the Russians to get into space first. Eisenhower approved a civilian venture to launch a scientific satellite and insisted that a non-military rocket carry the payload. This rocket, called Vanguard, had to be designed virtually from scratch.
In "Sputnik Declassified," NOVA probes the prehistory of the Space Age, examining what makes Earth orbit so difficult to achieve; why the superpower rivalry in the wake of World War II made spaceflight attainable for the first time in history; and how a worldwide civilian science effort called the International Geophysical Year served as the occasion for both Sputnik I and the American response.
One of the key U.S. pioneers of the early Space Age is also one of the most controversial. As the rocket program leader for Nazi Germany, Wernher von Braun developed the V-2 rocket, which was built with slave labor and rained destruction on England, Belgium, and France in the final year of World War II. (See more on Von Braun's tainted legacy.)
Brought to the U.S. with most of his staff after the war, von Braun spearheaded the development of long-range missiles for the U.S. Army. On September 20, 1956—more than a year before Sputnik I—the first of his Jupiter C missiles reached an altitude of 682 miles, from which its fourth stage could have easily boosted a payload into orbit. But the Department of Defense had already passed over the Army team in favor of Vanguard and had forbidden von Braun from developing any kind of orbital spacecraft.
Eight weeks after Sputnik I, Vanguard was finally ready—and exploded spectacularly on the launchpad. Now the tables were turned. Von Braun was given the go-ahead to get a satellite into orbit as soon as possible, which he achieved on January 31, 1958, with Explorer I, launched by a Jupiter C missile.
Von Braun's ultimate success and America's hurt pride and alarm over Sputnik I led to the founding of NASA and eventually to the triumphs of the Apollo program. Thanks to the space race that Sputnik I initiated, Eisenhower's secret spy satellites and von Braun's childhood dream of human travel to the moon both became reality.
Although many experts foresaw Sputnik I, few could have predicted that the simple metal sphere with a crude radio and two batteries heralded a fundamental rethinking of America's priorities, and ultimately helped create the world we live in today. Spaceflight, GPS, cell phones, satellite TV, even the personal computer and the Internet—all owe a debt to Sputnik I. (For more on Sputnik's legacy, go to What Satellites See.)
How Education Got Screwed Up: (It Didn't!): Repost
I am reposting this because the President will resurrect it tonight during the SOTU speech. Remember this post as you listen to him tell us the same thing. Again.