Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Pearl Harbor Day for American education?

Hi everyone,

Back after a couple of weeks buried underneath piles of grading and just in time for the ironically timed December 7th release of the OECD's report on education.

Oy veh.

Saturday's column

Dec. 7, 2010, a day that will live in infamy
We snooze on schools and lose footing to other nations

If you found out that America’s strategic position in the global marketplace had been eroded and that our future economic and political security was at stake, would you get out of bed and try to do something about it? Or would you ignore the bombs, hit the snooze alarm and roll over? Let’s find out.

Pearl Harbor Day isn’t just for memories any more. On Dec. 7 this year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) comparing the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds across 70 countries.

The United States took a hit – and this time it was our own fault.

In reading, math, and science. the United States landed well behind Shanghai, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Slovenia. The United States is in the middle of the pack along with Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Portugal.

Yes, really. Slovenia.

The list starts to blur the urgency of the situation, so here’s a number to hang on to: Canadian 15-year-olds are more than a year ahead of U.S. 15-year-olds in math and more than half a year ahead in reading and science – and Canada was behind Shanghai.

What can we do?

Some of the survey results were fascinating. Charter schools – or private schools for that matter – won’t help. The numbers indicate private school student performance is statistically similar to public school students. Competition doesn’t produce significant statistical differences either.

One factor showed up in all countries with school systems that outperform United States: They pay their teachers excellent salaries. This won’t be a popular option these days. We spend proportionally less on teacher salaries in this country than average OECD levels.

As we’ve found here in West Bend, plenty of people here believe they shouldn’t have to be inconvenienced, much less make any sacrifices, to guarantee the next generation gets a good education. But while we’ve been arguing about this, plenty of other countries sucked it up, made the necessary sacrifices and are leaving us in their dust.

The United States is now eighth from the bottom in terms of high school graduation rates among OECD countries. College graduation rates are even more revealing: the United States slipped from second to 13th place between 1995 and 2008, not because our rates declined but because rates have risen faster in other OECD countries. Eleven countries have passed us during the last 15 years – including China.

To summarize: We’ve remained stagnant as an educational power in the world while we continue to avoid investing in education at the levels that would keep us competitive for the rest of the world – even though we have the money.

Can you hear the sirens yet? Are we going to have to lose another USS Arizona, snoring away in port, before we roll out of bed and decide to try to keep up with the rest of the world?

So listen: The anti-school forces in West Bend who have tried every way from Sunday to cheat our kids out of the kind of education that will keep this country competitive on the global stage are – let’s make this simple – a threat to the economic future of the United States. These true believers believe we can compete by cutting educational opportunities instead of investing in them.

This might not be a problem if we only had to compete with Slovenia, but we need to compete with China. China will not be content to make cheap plastic junk forever and, from the looks of this Pearl Harbor survey, they won’t have to for much longer. They’re looking forward to replacing us politically and economically on the global stage, something that looks increasingly likely now that they’re ahead of us educationally.

So look: Our grandparents and parents made sacrifices for our benefit with good humor and dogged determination. But if you can’t stomach the inconvenience of educating the next generation, if you don't want to invest in the future of this country by doing everything you can to guarantee a “Smartest Generation” – and soon – then your priorities are just plain wrong.

The personal greediness sanctified by the Chicago School of Economics and accepted as an article of faith in this country during the past decade has become a real threat to the future of the Republic. Here’s your choice folks: Either help your country stay ahead in an increasingly dangerous and competitive world or get the hell out of the way.

Or, you could always just hit the snooze alarm, drift back into your happy American Dream and blow off your responsibilities.

Americans have gotten good at that.


1 comment:

Kewaskumite said...

Yong Zhao spoke at Kewaskum High School last November 8, as part of the Public Affairs Forum. His message was worth mentioning, his claim was that American Schools, prior to NCLB, were superior to the Chinese schools whose students routinely outperformed their American counter parts.

According to Yong Zhao despite high test scores 90% of Chinese university graduates were not hirable. He went on to say that although students preformed very well on tests, that in practical matters they had troubles. One explanation he provided of the test/workplace disparity was of the Chinese engineer.

Zhao explained that in Chinese factories there was always oil on the ground, and that this was unique to China. Researchers looked into the matter and found out that at every other factory when there was a leak; engineers looked for what was causing the leak. However, in China, when the engineers saw oil on the floor they just cleaned it up.

Yong went on to provide graphs showing American test scores below that of their international counter parts for years. Nevertheless he showed the U.S. economy continued to thrive.

Those were Zhao’s thoughts anyways I tend to think George Carlin had it right. Did you watch the link on Carlin and education?