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Why America's School "Lag" Has Never Mattered 361

Posted by samzenpus
from the simple-but-effective dept.
The Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development (OECD), a forum of the top 34 developed economies, has released an annual education report, and guess what? The U.S. has once again ranked poorly in relation to many other developed countries. An article at TechCrunch argues that we needn't worry because it doesn't matter: "However, the report implies that education translates into gainful market skills, an assumption not found in the research. For instance, while Chinese students, on average, have twice the number of instructional hours as Americans, both countries have identical scores on tests of scientific reasoning. 'The results suggest that years of rigorous training of physics knowledge in middle and high schools have made significant impact on Chinese students’ ability in solving physics problems, while such training doesn’t seem to have direct effects on their general ability in scientific reasoning, which was measured to be at the same level as that of the students in USA,' wrote a team of researchers studying whether Chinese superiority in rote scientific knowledge translated into the kinds of creative thinking necessary for innovation."
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Why America's School "Lag" Has Never Mattered

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  • American Advantage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @03:59PM (#41355401)

    American advantage boils down to 4 things

    1) American't honestly think they are special. True competition would kill this. If you are the 10th smartest person in a class and you don't have head to head competition that tells you differently you can think you are the smartest. In asian you know you are number 10. This allows Americans to believe they are capable of great things. That means we try far more often and THAT is why we succeed more often in innovation.

    2) Americans have more wealth. If you want to program buying a computer is not a big deal, or a milling machine for $10,000. In many countries the milling machine is impossible. Business takes money and living in a country with money and free time really really helps.

    3) This is an advantage against Europe etc. America values success. Its a virtue. If you hate the 1% then doing something that causes you to be part of that 1% can actually be discouraged. Australia is a good example, there the most successful are mocked while in the USA the most successful are giving special privilege.

    4) Americans can always go back to school. Many countries set in stone if you are smart or dumb with test scores and you have a much harder time going back to school for a premium education if you screw up your youth. This lack of class structure both in terms of education and in terms of inherited wealth makes for a more competition based economy.

    And thats why I think we are not totally outclassed by the better education systems around the world.

  • by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @03:59PM (#41355413) Journal

    I blame those Japanese minorities, always bringing down our math scores.

    Anyway, a rat race of artificial scarcity is a stupid way to run the world. What matters is not that we're the best, but that we're good enough - to maintain nutrition, health and shelter. Everything else can be done at leisure.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:12PM (#41355535)

    If you take away the minorities, the US would probably score like Japan. It's not popular to say that; but it's true.

    If you take away the MAJORITY OF SOME minorities, the US would probably score like Japan. It's not popular to say that; but it's true.

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:14PM (#41355551)

    I wonder how that will work out? Seriously, since at least a century, we often had the best and brightest immigrants and I wonder how much that is skewing results? Something that MAY NOT continue. Especially if our fortunes go down, or our IP laws appear too restrictive.

    Perhaps it's too early to measure China, or they suffer from too rigid a school system, or like Japan, their language is cumbersome it takes up a significant portion of schooling to just learn it, or as the one Ted Talks suggest - normal schools built on the factory model kill creativity, and so the asian ones must be doing that to an even greater degree.

    But at least, like the fast food model, they ensure a minimum standard coming out. But that is public school's entire downfall. One size fits all. The person who wants to become the next doctor or scientific researcher is forced to do the same basic schooling as the person who just wants to fix cars until a ridiculously high grade.

    I'm pretty sure by age 12, you can pretty much tell who the academic stars will be, who is mediocre and who the lazy slobs are. But that's 6th grade and still 3-4 more years are wasted on keeping everyone more or less the same. I'm pretty sure gymnastic teams or iceskating coaches need that long to spot who will be the talent and who will be the also ran.

    But this is more than spotting stars in order to nurture them. Not everyone who does bad in school does bad in life. But the answer for them isn't always perpetually more years of school. We bought into the hype that formal education is the answer to everything that HR departments are requiring degrees for every little job and totally ignoring education outside the classroom that may be much better suited for training towards the work at hand. (I.e. the German model of apprenticeships).

  • by Space cowboy (13680) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:21PM (#41355631) Journal

    ... is that if you click through to the graph, on page 2 [], you can see that the US is stagnating, whereas pretty much every other country is bettering itself.

    The US started at a relatively high position on the graph, so the educational issues haven't been too much of a problem, but the US is being rapidly overtaken by a whole host of other countries. It is disingenuous (see one of the articles between the summary and the graph) to claim that it has never mattered that the US's educational system is poor, so everything is peachy. Sure, it hasn't mattered *until* *now*... How does it go ? Past performance is no guarantee of future success...


  • by GPierce (123599) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:32PM (#41355729)

    In many ways, it hasn't changed tin the last fifty or so years. In the 1960's, about 5% of engineering graduates actually got to do any engineering. The other 95% were engaged in 'highly skilled" activities such as finding the cheapest resistor/capacitor combination to build the gizmo that one of the 5% got to design. And because the defense industries were operating in a system where their bids got extra brownie points for the number of BAs MAs and Phds in the company, the companies were willing to hire a graduate engineer to push a broom. It improved their chances of getting the next contract.

    It was similar in programming. About 5% got to work on the unique innovative stuff. The rest were assigned to program maintenance. At one point, Johns Mannville corporation almost self destructed because they hired an entire IT department of brilliant talented software engineers. Corporate politics takes on a whole new dimension when 95 really smart guys are all fighting to position themselves to be in charge of one of the two or three really interesting new projects schedules for the following year. And no, doing a really good job on your current project didn't count - (see Dilbert for guidance.)

  • by AlphaWolf_HK (692722) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:42PM (#41355813)

    Probably because unions in Germany are altruistic, whereas American unions are greedy self interested asshats. Don't take my word for it: []

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:07PM (#41356021)

    I sense a little fallacy behind first comparing American education to the developed countries and then comparing them to China on scientific reasoning.

  • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:11PM (#41356053)

    What makes you think Germany is doing better than the USA?

    Per capita GDP? USA: $48K, Germany: $37K

    Human Development Index? USA: ranked 4th. Germany ranked 9th

    Quality of the education system (since that's what we are talking about): USA 60+ universities in the top 100. Germany: 5 in the Times Higher Education Rankings

    Where is German innovation? Compare the number of US high tech companies with German. Compare the ease of obtaining capital for entrepreneurs in USA v. Germany. For that matter compare the popular culture where Germany almost completely copies the USA.

    Even with big geographic and demographic advantages, Germany is still lagging behind the USA and the reason is that the burden of the heavy regulation, taxes, welfare state and the unions is too much even for the German worker to carry on his back.

  • Ok Hazel (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:14PM (#41356085)

    France is about 60 million people, the US about 360. BUT, they have

    * their own fighter program

    * an own engine for their fighter

    * an own radar for their fighter

    * their own ballistic missile subs (not designed by the US)

    * their own ballistic missile (not designed by the US)

    * their own nukes, which designed and tested BY THEMSELVES. Not like the lazy brits got them from America.

    * their own tanks

    * a first rate SAR satellite system (flown by Germany, designed by France)

    * their own designed tank

    * the leading industrial gas company (Air Liquide)

    * still several car makers, unlike Britain

    * CATIA (look it up)

    * the TGV, which is the fastest wheeled train

    * lots of nuclear power so that they can economically heat with leccy

    * the reactors are their own design

    * the nukes are of course built by themselves

    * their role in Airbus certainly is the MAJOR role

    * the major role in Arianespace, one of the most modern sat launchers

    * a real, catapult-launched aircraft carrier

    So, for a country of this size, you can simply not do more. And if they are kind of exhausted, it is exhaustion from very hard work. Don't believe the bullshit stereotypes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:25PM (#41356159)

    What matters is not that we're the best, but that we're good enough - to maintain nutrition, health and shelter. Everything else can be done at leisure.

    Was it Finland or some other Scandinavian country where the goal of their education system was sorta like that?

    Ironically, these Scandinavian countries were inspired by the great American John Dewey

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:47PM (#41356309)

    At one point, Johns Mannville corporation almost self destructed because they hired an entire IT department of brilliant talented software engineers.

    [citation needed]

    Johns Manville manufactures insulation, roofing materials, and engineered products. They were a leader in asbestos, and filed for bankruptcy in '82 because of asbestos-related lawsuits.

    So WTF are you talking about?

  • by Space cowboy (13680) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:08PM (#41356459) Journal

    I like to think I'm one of those bright people, and (to your point) I currently live in Silicon Valley, having sold my (small) UK company to a large US company here (one of the requirements was relocation, which at the time - removes sunglasses .... wasn't a problem :)

    I have a pretty good setup here, but I'm not planning on staying too much longer - mainly because although the money and the weather are good, the healthcare, paranoia (the TSA is generally approved of !) safety (seriously, metal detectors in schools to detect guns!), quality of life, and education system aren't as good as the UK. I find that as I get older (and more financially secure), things like that become more important to me and mine.

    The golden handcuffs are wearing thin. A couple more years and we'll be out of here. It was nice while it lasted, the people are friendly, and it's a nice place to visit, but I don't want to *live* here. I don't think I'm alone in this.


  • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:19PM (#41356547)

    Inequality-adjusted HDI puts the US between Italy and Estonia. Not very far from Greece. Also cost of living comparison are shit: a German citizen will have better retirement and has access to a generous system of socialised medicine throughout their life. Basically, a random German will in general have a better life than a random American.

    But the topic is innovation and schools. And something must be said in favour of the US system: it has a remarkably high proportion of very highly achieving students. This seems to be at the cost of a pretty poor average. There is a reason for that: it give a greater emphasis on creativity, at the cost of structure, and this benefits the brightest.

    In turn, this is could be good idea from the point of view of the economy: when progress is fast, the winner takes it all, and generating more winners is a good strategy. However, the computing revolution is finishing, and there might not be much innovating left to do. If it turns out that a well-educated workforce (on average) is paramount in the future (as opposed to highest proportion of geniuses), then America's strategy will be a losing bet.

    Personally, I think that the US is a terrible case to study the value of education right now: it has been propped up for a large part of the 20th century by massive immigration of very highly qualified immigrants from Europe, and now from China and India. These fluxes are drying up, and the current political mood is set against immigration. So we will know with some certainty only in 20 or so years whether the US system of education is a disaster or a great design.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:40PM (#41356709)

    You know, while I understand the problems inherent in racism, it makes me wonder how racism itself is the cause of economic hardship over a long period of time. While it is certainly true that slaveowners and whites would have had a hugely disproportionate amount of power at the end of the slavery era, and certainly Jim Crow would cause some practical difficulties with education and advancement, I wonder how long it actually requires for a former slave group to finally turn things around.

    Probably every race on Earth has had members of itself enslaved at one point in the past. Wealthy Romans tended to be taught by educated Greek slaves. Egyptians enslaved their own kind and others. Muslims in the medieval period enslaved Christians who ended up becoming Janissaries and other court officials. Although slavery itself is a violation of human rights, from everything I have seen, it has been no bar to the eventual rise of the slaves to at least a parity position, despite the inequity of their positions.

    This is not a new argument, but I'm just going to come out and say it. The reason racism is more than a problem of a generation or two is because the former slave populations have internalized their disadvantage, and even made it part of who they are. We feed this sense of them being "owed" something because we feel guilty about people in the past having enslaved their ancestors. Well, that hasn't happened in well over a century, and even segregation ended over a generation ago. No one alive today has enslaved a black person in America, and the people who thought it was okay to remove their ability to have an equal opportunity before the law are dying off too. The excuses are starting to show up as just that, excuses.

    With all of the programs, anti-racism laws and education out there, there's still racists and still minority poor, and there always will be. Former slave populations didn't end their enslavement by ending racism, they took responsibility for their own actions and made of their lives what they could. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't right, but even if it was, no population can do anything while they wait on someone else to right the balance. If they won't do it themselves, who will?

    Being a disadvantaged population over the long term is something that comes from inside that population. It's a permanent inferiority complex that is mistaken for culture. It is cutting their own legs off. It's something the blacks in America do, and its something that the Palestinians do in their own country. They define themselves by what makes them weak and by their failures. When you are proud of your gangsters and terrorists, you are proud of your failure as a population to rise up on its own and you will always be a dependent, slave society while you allow that to continue.

    There's nothing that makes a white person smarter or better than a black. What has turned the tide is the cultures that happen to have come out of the European struggle to not be second-best to the guy over the hill. While you denigrate people for "acting white", when in reality "acting white" is merely dismissive for humans doing what it takes to be successful, white or black, you are enslaving yourselves.

    I'm tired of this tired notion that people can be "kept down" if they have the will to succeed. The type of person who does have the will to succeed will do what it takes, even eschewing their own retrograde culture, if needed, to make a better life for themselves. If I was an American black today, I'd be ashamed to be called African American. Africa in general, is the equivalent of a failed state, its own cultures frequently based on the the taking of their own kind as slaves. How do you think most of the black slaves got to the slave ports to begin with? They were brought in by their own people first to the Muslims, and then to the Europeans for their slave trade. Today, they're a culture that is perpetually under the thumb of this or that dictator, and the democracies that do exist are rotten

  • by larkost (79011) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @07:36PM (#41357161)

    I disagree with you on a few fronts:

    1) Thinking that the #1 problem in education is anywhere on school grounds is provably wrong. The #1 problem in the US education system is at home where the majority parrents are not spending enough time teaching their kids that education is important, and that teachers are to be respected. Just look at the animosity that is spewing out of the Republican canidates right now. Just immagine you are a kid and are hearing your parrents spout off about how horrible teachers are, how much respect do you think those kids are going to pay their teachers?

    Remember in the last 3 generations we have gone from a society where Mom was expected to stay home and raise the kids (including manage their education), to one where there is no way that the majority of households could afford to have either parent not working full time. This change has put a lot more GDP on the plate, but has come with its own costs.

    2) Competition works best when people have the reasonable ability to say "no" to a product. But in areas such as education and health care there is never a supply-demmand balance, and saying no is not a valid option (insert hand waving here). Everyone always demands the "best" so prices are always going to spiral out of control.

    3) Competition works well when you buy multiple of the product you are purchasing over the life of your purchasing it. For example if I really hate the food at one restaraunt then I will go to another one the next time. But for practical purposes it is silly to talk about third grade the same way.

    4) Universal schooling is something I consider a fundamental building block of "the American Dream". It is how someone who is born into a poor family can have a fighting chance to make it in our society. But market forces ("competition") are always going to focus on where the money is, which is not in poor neighborhoods. And people from poor neighborhoods often do not have the means of trnasporting their children to schools in better off neighborhoods. So the only people who are going to benifit from voucher systems are the people who have enough money that they already don't need them. So all you are doing with that is to give more money into alredy well-off schools, and further starve schools that are never going ot be able to recover.

    5) I have never seen any study show that privatizing schools has ever shown any cost or quality difference, when applied to the same populations as a similar public school. Remember a public school has to take all comers, it can not reject students because of bad grades, bad behavior, or phisical/menatal handicaps. Every single private school I have ever seen routinely expludes all or most of those popluations.

    I know that many schools keep multiple lawyers on retainer (and often use them full time) to keep defending themselves from law suits from parents of needy kids who want more and more services to flow to these kids. Trying to compare the results of private schools to public schools is a comparison that has the public schools competing with one hand tied behind their backs.

    The push to a voucher system is just the push to make sure the rich only pay for their children, leaving the poor with meager scraps.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @08:03PM (#41357385)

    As someone who has lived in the UK, Netherlands and the USA, the USA comes bottom of this list for standard of living by a long, long way.

    More disposable income? Maybe at the very top end, but your average American can't even afford to take vacations on the lousy 2 weeks he gets off a year.

    Have you ever been to Europe? Decent healthcare, 6-8 weeks vacation per year, good quality schools - they're miles ahead of the US.

  • by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:09PM (#41357817) Journal

    I did go to private school, and while I can't speak for US private schools, here in Blighty:

    1) Everyone arsed around. Good contacts mean no need to work unless you're on a scholarship - which I was, and it was hard to work around clowns whose daddies' $40,000+/year meant they weren't going anywhere. I did vaguely attend a state-funded school for a year and I'd never met a harder working bunch of students;

    2) The wealth of the parents tends to reflect a certain refined competence - "easy solution: change the law", "piece of shit politically correct beaurocratic mess" and "mother is a cold hearted bitch" reflect neither refinement nor competence.

    The first thing to understand about school is that it is in the interests of the powerful to keep most people undereducated - why engineer more competition for yourself?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @09:17PM (#41357867)

    Actually, I did MY grad studies in the US, and was a long, long way ahead of the other students coming in, so much so that I got to skip the first year and a half of courses required for the PhD. Myself, an Indian student and three of the Chinese guys basically skipped a year ahead.

    The US is a major power in research on the back of immigrants who got their education elsewhere. Go check out your schools, and count how many of the researchers got their BA in the US. It'll be very, very few, especially at the higher end in the physical sciences. When I got my PhD, our head of dept was Indian, and our prize winning superstars were a Korean, an Indian, a Chinese and two Germans. The US faculty weren't in the same league.

    The curricula aren't the same, sure, but a chemistry degree is a chemistry degree, and the US chem degrees are worth about 50% of the European ones.

    Name your state schools that put Oxford/Cambridge/Paris/Heidelberg to shame. You can't, because they don't exist. You call it European arrogance, I call it looking at the statistics.

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