WaPo: Presidential Candidates Need To Spotlight Education

Research shows the US falling far behind other nations in educational progress and skill-growth of its children — but do the candidates care?

The Washington Post argues that education has to become a central issue in the presidential election.

New research shows that only one-quarter of America’s 52 million K-12 students perform on par with the average performance of the world’s five best school systems — which are now in Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, Taiwan and South Korea.

In addition to this troubling finding, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that currently the US produces less than 50% of the advanced math students as 16 other countries. This is extremely disturbing for the future growth of science and engineering within the US as it indicates a future need to import scientific talent to make up for the failing performance of home grown math and science students.

The United States spends more on schools than most wealthy nations as a share of GDP yet ranks in the middle to the bottom of the pack on international comparisons. McKinsey estimates that the cost of this achievement gap vs. other nations is up to $2 trillion a year — the equivalent of a permanent national recession.

Despite the critical importance of this shortfall, only 1% of time in Republican debates have candidates even touched upon educational matters. This seems as bizarre as it is obvious that the future economic welfare of a society hinges upon the education and skill growth of its current children.

Joel Klein, chief executive of News Corp’s education division and former New York City Chancellor of Schools, argues that:

The accountability regime set up by No Child Left Behind likewise left the design of standards to the states. The result has been what many consider a “race to the bottom,” as states eased requirements to create the illusion of progress.

NCLB has also recently been neutered by the Obama administration’s widespread granting of state waivers to head off the inevitability of the state’s failure to reach the standards set out in the bill. Klein also argues for a professionalization of the teaching profession.

There is almost universal consensus that effective teaching is the most powerful way to improve student performance. But we’re not serious as a nation about making teaching an attractive career. Finland, Singapore and South Korea recruit 100 percent of their teachers from the top third of high school and college students. Their teachers train in prestigious institutions that accept only one of every seven or eight applicants. By contrast, only 23 percent of new U.S. teachers come from the top third (14 percent for high-poverty schools). Our teachers are trained mostly in open-enrollment institutions seen as second-rate; poor pay and working conditions compel the best to leave the classroom within a few years. A trade union mentality makes it hard to reward excellence and promote accountability.

The US is among the top global spenders ($ spent as a share of GDP) on schools, yet ranks in the bottom half of international comparisons. If these issues aren’t addressed soon by politicians currently unwilling to provide what could be a politically unpopular mandate for reform, then the danger is that instead of a child, an entire nation may be left behind.

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