Improved education is the key to the future for the U.S., as our economy depends on having a highly skilled workforce. Over the past five years, my sense of hope and optimism has actually overtaken despair with U.S. schools. First, there is now broad recognition that quality teachers can lead to revitalized schools that are competitive internationally. Second, there is a new willingness by legislatures in a majority of states to push actively for more flexibility in hiring, paying, and retaining teachers and for improved teacher evaluations so that we identify the teachers that we want to nurture and retain.
We argue that economic growth is what will ensure the other laudable Sustainable Development Goals and that quality education is the only way to achieve long run growth. Simply put, this economic growth goal and the means of achieving it through quality education stand at the top of the pyramid of the SDGs.
Ministers and education officials from a wide range of countries and international agencies are converging on Incheon in the Republic of Korea this week to discuss a new set of development goals at the World Education Forum. A draft document lays out a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will follow on from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that included education goals to be accomplished by 2015. The MDGs called for universal access to secondary schooling and showed real progress: primary school enrolment rates in South Asia rose from 78% in 1999 to 94% in 2012 while they moved from 59% to 79% in sub-Saharan Africa over the same period. Unfortunately, the best available evidence shows that many of the students appeared not to learn anything. The evidence on international achievement tests showed dismal levels of knowledge for many of the countries that improved in school access – seat time is not the same as learning.
It is hard getting around the historic facts. Real per pupil spending has more than doubled in the past 40 years, but the mathematics and reading scores of 17-year-olds have barely budged. We must recognize that more of the same is unlikely to yield better results – and by implication reform through spending is not the way to improvement.
Despite decades of study and enormous effort, we know little about how to train or select high quality teachers. We do know, however, that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of classroom teachers and that these differences can be observed.
Given this situation, the path to improvement rests with enhanced evaluation systems for teachers combined with better personnel systems that link retention and reward to effectiveness.
It’s like the bad penny that keeps appearing, only it costs hundreds of millions of dollars. The city teachers union has begun pushing a new property-tax proposal tied to a union employment program. Everyone would be better off if they just stuck to teaching kids.
There’s nothing more tiresome than when a Cabinet secretary holds a major news conference when there is no news to announce. It is like the obligatory press conference of the NFL coach of a losing team after his team has lost again. On Tuesday, the U.S. Secretary of Education billed the release of the test scores on worldwide education called the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams as a global event, even though the real news is that there is no news at all. The results revealed that U.S.
If the superintendents of failing school districts were as adept at fixing schools as they are at making excuses for their poor performance, America would have the best education system in the world.
Instead, the just-released tests administered by the Program for International Student Assessment show that other countries are making faster progress than the United States. Our teenagers are now ranked 26th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading. Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea, and Hong Kong are leading the pack.
From 2009-2013, fourth-graders, who have had the full "benefit" of the Obama administration's nonenforcement of No Child Left Behind, improved by two points in math and just one point in reading. During those four years, eighth-graders moved up one point in math and three points in reading. Overall, those gains average out to less than a half point per year. Compare that with the previous decade (2000-09), during which average annual gains in the two subjects at both grade levels were twice as large as those registered in the last four years.
Between 1992 and 2011, the improvement in achievement by Wisconsin students was the fourth worst of the 41 states for which data are available. In that relatively short time, Wisconsin moved from sixth to 14th in the rankings. This signaled a fundamental set of problems ranging from the future earnings of Wisconsin students to the growth and prosperity of the entire state.
The headline in the New York Times was "Eighth-graders in 36 states performed above the mathematics and science averages." That sounds pretty good until one goes into the details and finds out what league is being assessed. Only a third of the OECD countries -- the club of most developed nations of the world -- participated in TIMSS. TIMSS, for example, did not include Singapore, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, or Poland. Instead, the TIMSS countries were heavily weighted toward developing nations -- Armenia, Ghana, Oman, Syria.... It is not just a matter of pride or of publicity. Our economic well-being is directly dependent on the quality of our workforce.
Policymakers and reform advocates alike have rallied around introducing a set of national content standards, suggesting that this will jump-start the stagnating achievement of U.S. students. As history clearly indicates, simply calling for students to know more is not the same as ensuring they will learn more. While I support better learning standards, we cannot be distracted from more fundamental reform of our schools.
New data show the disheartening level of skills of the American worker compared with those in other developed countries. Although this is the first international comparison of adult math and reading skills, this is what we have been hearing about U.S. students for decades — without strong, meaningful action to correct the situation. If economic growth followed historical patterns and if America could bring its students up to German standards, that would generate an increase in the average American worker’s income by 12% every year for the next 80 years.
As Congress debates ways of controlling a burdensome national debt that threatens to blow through 100% of GDP, one way of correcting the long-term trend projected for the rest of the 21st Century is systematically ignored.
Paul E. Peterson and Eric A. Hanushek
One metric of the failure of American public education is that only 32% of U.S. high-school students are proficient in math. According to our calculations, raising student test scores in this country up to the level in Canada would dramatically increase economic growth. We estimate that the additional growth dividend is equivalent to adding an average 20% to the paycheck of every worker for every year of work over the next 80 years.
Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2013
Our schools are neither excellent nor equitable, but we allow this to continue with just lip service about the problem. If we allow another three decades of slow movement on dealing with these issues, it will have profound implications for America’s economic and social well-being. These problems cannot be swept under the rug if America and our children are to realize their full potential.