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.
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
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.
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
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. But now California is moving to displace this symbol of governmental malfeasance with a much more harmful ploy: If you will not give us the money we want for schools, we will close them down.
George P. Shultz and Eric A. Hanushek
In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future—the human capital produced by our K-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the U.S., because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income. Over the past half century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations. In the chart nearby, we compare GDP-per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with achievement results on international math assessment tests. If we accept our current level of performance, we will surely find ourselves on a low-growth path.
Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2012
Liberals and conservatives alike have made "weighted student funding" a core idea of their reform prescriptions. Both groups see such weighted funding as providing more dollars to the specific schools they tend to focus upon, and both see it as inspiring improved achievement through newfound political pressures. Unfortunately, both groups are very likely wrong. Schools will not improve until there are greater incentives for improving student achievement. Redistributing funds across schools or increasing the funding to schools by themselves will not magically put us on this path.
Nobody would ever advocate making personnel decisions through public posting of evaluations in the newspaper. The public release of value-added scores for more than 12,000 New York City teachers, set for Friday morning, should not be taken as a model for how to run the human resource departments of the schools. But that is not what is going on here.
The teachers’ unions have put themselves in a difficult position, with Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio demonstrating that the traditional labor stance is untenable. So far, media attention to the union story has focused on the fiscal side—state deficits, teacher-benefit packages, and the like. Without question, these are important issues, but they are dwarfed by the implications for teacher effectiveness and improved student achievement. Now is the time to go beyond the rhetoric and to show that all of us—including the unions—are truly behind ensuring effective teachers in all classrooms.