After rising steadily for almost a century, standards of education in the public schools of Europe and North America have leveled off, and in the opinion of many parents and employers, are actually falling. More and more children are leaving school with little more than basic knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and illiteracy is becoming a social problem once again. With dropout rates of twenty-seven percent in high school and fifty percent in colleges, the American education system is clearly in trouble; European dropout rates, though lower than those of U.S., are rising too.
Various factors have been blamed for the apparent decline in educational standards. Some people say that over-crowding and lack of discipline are major factors. Others maintain that subjects like art and drama have been overemphasized at the expense of more practical subjects. The negative influence of television is frequently mentioned as a reason for growing illiteracy. Many teachers and principals, however, insist that the problem is not of falling standards but of rising expectations on the part of parents and employers.
Whether or not standards in public schools are actually failing, many parents feel that the only way to secure a good education for their children is to send them to private schools, which generally have smaller classer and stricter discipline. The popularity of such schools is going steadily, despite the high tuition fees. In the United States, for example, eleven percent of all school children attend private schools; in France, over sixteen percent do so.
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