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.
The presumption behind having national standards is that having a clearer and more consistent statement of learning objectives across states would tend to lessen the problem of heterogeneous skills that students bring to the labor market. Again, however, the fundamental problem is lack of minimal skills and not the heterogeneity of skills per se.
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.
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.
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
Eric Hanushek of Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his new book, Endangering Prosperity (co-authored with Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessmann). Hanushek argues that America's educational system is mediocre relative to other school systems around the world and that the failure of the U.S. system to do a better job has a significant negative impact on the American standard of living.
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.
A little more than a decade ago we embarked on what is arguably the most significant change in educational policy of the past half-century—the introduction of No Child Left Behind. As with any 1,000-page guess about how to do something, I thought the idea of revisiting the law in 2007, the date designated for its reauthorization, was an important part of the underlying wisdom of the act. Without researching it, I suspect that other congressional acts have missed their reauthorization date by wider margins. But, given the importance of this act to the hopes, aspirations, and operations of our schools, I am willing to assert that this ranks among the most consequential dropped balls of Congress.
Over a five week period in early 2013, there were a series of exchanges with Deborah Meier about accountability, testing, personnel evaluation, and salaries. The sequence of posts is provided here, along with a link to the responses by Deborah Meier.
Does inefficiency in current school spending imply that we can simply cut back on spending without harming students? This surely is a key question that will come up this spring in statehouses across the nation as they face another tough budget year. District officials, if they are wise, will not just rely on the same old belt-tightening maneuvers. Indeed, perhaps the only viable option is seriously addressing policies toward educator salaries.
Improving outcomes—either with fewer or more resources—requires significant change. It will be virtually impossible to get such change without active state policies that push for the alignment of salary budgets with classroom performance.
Education Week, February 6, 2013
Secretary Duncan and others have emphasized the mediocre international test scores of U.S. students. Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein now tell us that performance is not as bad as you think and that Secretary Duncan should stop making “exaggerated and misleading statements” about the performance of U.S. students. However, we cannot paper over the fact that a large number of other countries have shown that it is possible to develop considerably higher skills in their youth.
Are Video Games the Learning Tools They’re Cracked Up To Be? Three facts about educational video games—and educational technology more generally—are important to consider as we look at their current use and impact. First, video games, educational and otherwise, show that clever technologies can attract and hold the attention of users and can teach them a variety of sophisticated thinking patterns. Second, educational games have made little dent in education. And, third, advanced technologies will be an important part of education in the future.
Recent school reform talk has focused importantly on teacher evaluations and on using evaluations for personnel decisions – both positive and negative. But this discussion is almost always too narrow. We should never focus exclusively on teacher evaluations without also including administrator evaluations.
When asked to propose ways to deal with budget cuts, the National Park Service famously proposed closing the Washington Monument, and this tactic of choosing the most egregious conceivable action as a way of forestalling budget cuts is enshrined in budgeting lore.