Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Are Poor Public Schools Killing the U. S. Economy?

The National Football League has no trouble finding good workers to put on the field.
When it comes to team gear they can sell:  teams look to China.

Public school teachers have heard this explanation before. Why is the U. S. economy tanking? Because the nation’s public schools stink. 

The case was outlined again in the New York Times recently.

In an editorial titled: “The Great Stagnation of American Education,” Robert J. Gordon, a professor at Northwestern, lamented the fact that our nation no longer leads the world in education. Lead? According to Gordon we’re falling farther and farther behind. Our high school dropout rate is too high. We don’t graduate enough high school students with the skills in math and science and critical thinking that businesses claim they need.

The U. S. is even falling behind in the production of college graduates! For decades we led in that category. Today we’re in 16th place.

How bad is the situation?

Dr. Gordon continues: “The Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests have consistently rated American high schoolers as middling at best in reading, math and science skills, compared with their peers in other advanced economies.” On the PISA test in 2012, our fifteen-year-olds finished tied for 15th in reading. They were tied for 31st in math and ranked 23rd in science out of sixty-five nations and cities tested.

Public school teachers, feel free to pause a moment and wipe your eyes and blow your noses if you’re weeping. It could be worse. How do you think Israeli teachers feel? Israeli fifteen-year-olds finished 37th in reading, 42nd in math and 42nd in science.

If Vladimir Putin was reading the Times at breakfast he probably choked on his sausage. The Russian Federation finished a dismal 43rd in reading, 38th in math and 39th in science. Luckily, both Israel and Russia still have plenty of nuclear weapons.

What other nations looked bad when PISA scores were posted? Mexico ranked 48th, 50th and 50th. They were also 33rd out of 34 advanced nations in high school graduation rates.

Indonesia was near the bottom in reading, math and science: 57th, 61st, 60th.

Bangladesh was not rated.

Dr. Gordon went to great lengths to explain how, for more than a century, gains in productivity in the United States were tied directly to rising educational attainment by workers. Now our education progress is stalled and so is our economy.

According to this line of reasoning the failure of schools explains why unemployment remains high in this country (7.4% in July). Too many workers lack skills to fill high-tech jobs in fields like computer science and engineering. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about how hard it is to find high school graduates to fill modern factory jobs or train as machinists. Business people would like you to know they are really, really trying. They just can’t find enough educated workers.

Damn teachers!!

Monday, I decided to do a little checking. I was visiting a Hallmark store to pick up a card for the parents of a new baby. I noticed a coffee mug with the words “Proud Mother of a U. S. Marine” painted on the side. When I turned it over it said: Made in China. That just seemed wrong to me. But I suppose, it takes all kinds of math and science skills to mass-produce coffee mugs and get them painted.

I had a similar experience when I bought Cincinnati Bengals gear at the start of this season. I selected a team jersey, cap, and an A. J. Green action figure. All three were made in Finland, because Finland’s fifteen-year-olds consistently have PISA scores near the top in all three categories.

Ha, ha. I’m joking.

All three were made in China.

So, let's strip this schools-are-failing-and-businesses-are-really-trying argument down to it’s underwear (Made in China). Suddenly, you realize that the idea American workers are in trouble because schools haven’t prepared them for a global economy might be absurd. Unless you want schools to prepare them to earn $1.36 per hour, which is what workers make in China. Or less in Bangladesh:  where there has been talk about raising the minimum wage of $37 per month. Maybe that’s why Walmart, Kohl’s and J. C. Penny all have contracts with Bangladeshi factories. Looking for workers with superior math, science and reading skills, are we?

The U.N. estimates that 58% of the adult population of Bangladesh is illiterate.

What about the idea that kids in other advanced nations are scoring higher on the PISA test and therefore business people have no trouble finding skilled Belgian or Hungarian workers? As already mentioned, according to the European Commission figures for July 2013 U. S. unemployment remained elevated at 7.4%. You can go back and look at PISA scores and see Hungarian students beat ours in math (490-487) and science (503-502).

Unemployment in Hungary was significantly higher:  10.4%.

Belgian students out-scored American students in all three PISA categories—and unemployment was higher: 8.9%.

Conversely, the combined PISA score of American fifteen-year-olds (1489), looked stellar compared to a score of 1472, racked up doltish Luxembourg fifteen-year-olds. Yet in Luxembourg most of those dolts were finding jobs (5.7% unemployment).

The more you study the relationship between national economies and PISA scores the more tenuous the idea that scores matter becomes. In July Austria had the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union (4.8%). Oddly enough, our teens trounced theirs in reading (500-470), got beat a little in math (487-496) but made it up with a win in science (502-494).

Finland, Korea and Japan consistently rank near the top in PISA. Still, this success has not translated into robust economic growth. A look at World Bank figures for GDP growth (see below) show almost an inverse relationship.

If education is the key, then how is Peru outperforming Poland? How has Peru managed to do so five years running? How did Sri Lanka beat Switzerland? How does economic growth in Bangladesh dwarf growth in Finland?

Could the truth be more obvious? This has almost nothing to do with the failure of schools or teachers and much to do with the greed of corporations. The United States didn’t lose hundreds of thousands of factory jobs to Mexico over the last fifteen years because American business leaders said, “Look, we need to find more educated workers.” We lost jobs—like a Ford Motors engine production plant—because Mexican workers work cheaper.

Cheap wins. Not educated.

Still don’t believe it? Try scouring your home as an experiment. Or take a look around when you’re at Lowes Home Improvement, looking for light bulbs, or picking up a plastic ice tray at Krogers. Or just head for the GAP and try on some jeans. See how many products carry the tag: Made in Finland. Or: Made in Estonia, or Made in Lichtenstein. Students in all three nations beat ours in reading, science and math.

Little good did it do them.


GDP Growth %:  2008-2012

Canada
USA
Japan
Swiss
Czech Rep.
Australia
2008
0.7
-0.4
-1
2.2
3.1
3.8
2009
-2.8
-3.1
-5.5
-1.9
-4.5
1.6
2010
3.2
2.4
4.7
3
2.5
2.1
2011
2.5
1.8
0.6
1.9
1.9
2.4
2012
1.7
2.2
1.9
1
-1.3
3.4
Cambodia
Brazil
Mexico
Sri Lanka
Finland
Bangladesh
2008
6.7
5.2
1.2
6
0.3
6.2
2009
0.1
-0.3
-6
3.5
-8.5
5.7
2010
6
7.5
5.3
8
3.3
6.1
2011
7.1
2.7
3.9
8.2
2.8
6.7
2012
7.3
0.9
3.9
6.4
-0.2
6.3
India
Zambia
Turkey
Korea
Angola
Ethiopia
2008
3.9
6
0.7
2.3
13.8
10.8
2009
8.5
6
-4.8
0.3
2.4
8.8
2010
10.5
7.6
9.2
6.3
3.4
9.9
2011
6.3
6.8
8.8
3.7
3.9
7.3
2012
3.2
7.3
2.2
2
6.8
8.5

Peru
Poland
Vietnam
China
Indonesia
Pakistan
2008
9.8
5.1
6.3
9.6
6
1.6
2009
0.9
1.6
5.3
9.2
4.6
3.6
2010
8.8
3.9
6.8
10.4
6.2
3.5
2011
6.9
4.5
6
9.3
6.5
3
2012
6.3
1.9
5
7.8
6.2
4.2



*****

If you liked this post, you might like my book about teaching, Two Legs Suffice, now available on Amazon.

Or contact me at vilejjv@yahoo.com and I can probably send you a copy direct, a little more cheaply. My book is meant to be a defense of all good teachers and a clear explanation of what good teachers can do, and what they cannot do.


Two Legs Suffice is also about what students, parents and others involved in education must do if we want to truly enhance learning. 





6 comments:

  1. Oh my freaking god. I am SO SICK of the idiotic idea that the US EVER led the world, or even was near the top, in education. WE NEVER HAVE. Even when the first international assessment that he references was given in the 1960s, we were smack in the middle. God.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve, if you can find that info on the 60s test, I would love to see it. I keep thinking someone will notice that Japan, for example, sends kids to school for well over 200 days per year. Maybe they get ahead because they run longer. And Finland: No sports!

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    2. Not for nothing, its that prideful myth of American exceptionalism along with low info voters slavish devotion to the lying liars of Faux BS that keep this story line afloat and consequently the bashing of Amrricsn Public School educators.Its a fixed, rigged numbrrs game and irs not fixrd in our favor folkd.The sooner you recognize this and call the fixers on their BS, the better.

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  2. When I reposted this on Badass Teacher Association's Facebook page (October 12, 2014) it stirred up a good reaction--that tells me teachers are increasingly fed up with all the attacks. Pattie McClellan replied: Excellent article. Also...excellent "portrait" of the the author! LOL

    Other replies below.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Walter Heinecke How come when the economy is in boom mode, you never hear corporates praising public education for contributing to that?

    Kim Daniels Excellent article.

    Lynnda Butler Let's change this title......Is the Federal Government screwing public education to benefit corporations who have invested in private schools???? Is the Federal Government fully funding public education????

    Roberta Ryan Williams Thanks for this. You should try to get it on Huffington post, or in Time. More people need to see it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Maggie Lyn G Excellent and shared!

    Sean Black As soon as someone says, "global economy," related to public education, I know it is most likely an utterance of ignorance.

    Suzanne Ziel There are so many things I'm tired of. I don't know where to begin

    ReplyDelete