We are all teachers, whether we want to be or not. You are a teacher when you help your child take their first step. You are a teacher as a grandparent when you teach the grand kids how to make cookies. You are a teacher at work when you take a younger co-worker under your wing and mentor them to make sure they do the task correctly. So if we are all inner teachers, why do we not show more respect for the teachers who make teaching our children their career?
According to the Institute of Educational Sciences, close to 4 million Americans make their living teaching our kids. Our children, who are enrolled in schools starting at kindergarten and going through high school, are 16.3 percent of the total population. America has 13,600 public school districts made up of 98,800 public schools. Public schools will spend $525 billion, with an average expenditure per student of $10,591. This year 3.2 million students graduated from high school. The percentage of high school drop outs declined over the last 10 years from 11.8 percent to 8.1 percent, indicating that our teachers are truly getting better at engaging our kids.
Our education system is making progress in bringing the teachers closer to the students. In 1955, the number of pupils per teacher was 27.4; in 1960 it was 26.4; in 1965 it was 25.1. Then it dropped to 17.9 in 1970 and today it is 15.6. So with this progress, you would think we would have the best elementary and high schools in the world. But we don't.
According to USA Today, 15-year- old students in the U.S. perform about average in reading and science and below average in math against the rest of the world. Out of 34 countries, the US is ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. The top performing countries were Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. Canada, which, like the U.S., has a decentralized education system, has their 15-year-olds perform more than one school year ahead in math than in the United States and more than a half year ahead in reading and science. The U.S. spends more per student, on average, than any other country except Luxembourg.
Stanford University translated these scores into economic terms and the impact of improving math, reading and science scores in the U.S. would be far-reaching. By increasing the average score by 25 points over the next 20 years, there would be a gain of $41 trillion in the U.S. economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. Better yet, bringing the U.S. up to the average performance of Finland, the best performing educational system, would result in gains of $103 trillion.
We as a society can argue all day long about class size, number of teachers and quality of teachers, but if we step back and think about the radical impact smarter and better trained kids today has on our future tomorrow, why are we even arguing about the money we spend on education. For our society, obviously, it is the best investment we can make. Unfortunately, we are always asking our government what it can do for me today, rather than taking the longer term view knowing that an investment in our kid's future now will pay off for us in the next generation.
If we could fix our education system from kindergarten through high school, think what that would do to our improvement in college scores. The U.S. slipped over the last decade from 2nd in college graduation to 13th. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. has also slipped from 12th to 16th place in the share of adults (ages 25-34) holding college degrees. Thirty-seven million Americans have gone to college, but never graduated. The shame in all of this is the best U.S. universities are still the best in the world. U.S. colleges claimed the top five spots on the Higher Education World University Rankings, and 18 of the top 25. So it looks like we have the university systems in place to train this next generation -- if we could just get them out of high school a little better prepared.
Every teacher I know is hard-working and passionate about their job. They seem to have a higher calling than the average American. According to The Journal, public school teachers in the U.S. spent more than $1.33 billion out of their own pocket on school supplies and instructional materials. This averaged out to $356 for each teacher spending their own money to help our kids. Ninety-two percent of teachers spent their own money. Whether we have kids in school or not, it is our generational obligation to help our teachers raise the bar with these children.
One person acting along with our fellow Americans chipping in can help lift this next generation. We can start by helping these teachers pay for the supplies that make a difference. Go to Adopt a Classroom to donate money to help out your favorite classroom. Go to Reading is Fundamental to help supply more books to teachers. Or go to the DollarDays July promotion on Facebook that is now taking nominations for 18 teachers to share in $5,000 of merchandise to help their classrooms.
We all have memories of one or more teachers that made a difference in our lives. I am sure we all have memories of teachable moments shared with the younger generations, as well as our peers. Working together to educate our children is not a new idea.
Back in the 1990s, we learned from Hillary Clinton's best-selling book It Takes a Village that all of us need to work together with our teachers to mold the younger 16.3 percent of the population. We teach so the next generation is better than us. That has been the evolution of man since the beginning of time.
Our teachers need your help, especially when this economy is so uncertain. No teacher should have to spend their own money to help our kids. They should spend their time focused on how to get our students up to what our northern neighbors in Canada are doing, then set their sights on Finland. Trillions of dollars are at stake.
Marc Joseph is the author of The Secrets of Retailing, Or: How to Beat Wal-Mart! and the CEO/President and founder of DollarDays International Inc.