The pervasive liberal educational myth is that American students are behind the rest of the world because we spend more money on nukes than on teachers. This myth contains three lies. The United States actually spends ridiculous amounts on education and our students are not behind.
It’s easy to see that because when we rank high performing students, the United States is Number One.
Among OECD nations in 2006, the United States claimed a third of high-performing students in both reading and science, far more than our next closest competitor, Japan. On math, we have a bit less to be proud of — we just claimed 14 percent of the high-performers, compared to 15.2 percent for Japan and 16.2 percent of South Korea.
If we have so many of the best minds, why are our average scores so disappointingly average? As Rutgers’s Hal Salzman and Georgetown’s B. Lindsay Lowell, who co-authored the EPI report, noted in a 2008 Nature article, our high scorers are balanced out by an very large number of low scorers. Our education system, just like our economy, is polarized.
The problem is in the averages. We have a fragmented multilingual educational system with few values. It is capable of giving achievers what they need to succeed, but has nothing much to offer those at the bottom.
Another way of looking at it is that the educational system is largely irrelevant. Values are. We have good students who are motivated at home to succeed and bad students who are not motivated at home, because their home hardly exists except as a dot on a bunch of social services agencies.
We are polarized between achievers and people whose big dream is to game the system for cash until it falls apart. Our educational scores reflect that disparity.
We have schools where students succeed and other schools where students are promoted by an educational bureaucracy that is gaming the educational standards.