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

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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  • Because (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @03:51PM (#41355301)

    AMERICA IS AWESOME!!!!!! We're #1! We're #1!!!! WHOOOOO!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We need a few innovators and a whole load of minimum wage drones.

    • If a job's worth doing at minimum wage, it's worth doing badly.

      All those Foxconn factory workers are earning a hell of a lot more than the Chinese minimum wage+benefits, you know.

  • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @03:57PM (#41355383) Journal

    ...China is shit in one way, but America is shit in another.

    Combine the best of both worlds and you have something good.

    But combine the worst and you have something awful.

    Polyculture, like many human endeavours, tends to increase both risk and reward.

    Expect this to be misinterpreted as "We're #1!"

    • The Chinese education system is great for rote memorization at the high-school level. If businesses could be developed from the fact that you can pass high-school algebra or geography, then China would have us beat. But unfortunately for them, businesses happens through people that push the state-of-the-art, instead of just getting by with a passing grade. And the state-of-the-art is still at a very high level only achievable by few. Maybe post-grad linear algebra or combinatorics would be useful, but a

      • For example, can anyone name a single high-end chinese fashion designer, or a movie director? LOL.

        So, your vision of the US is "Movies, microcode and pizza delivery"? I am rather sure that there are both well known Chinese movie directors and Chinese fashion designers -- in China. Hollywood and NYC aren't the only places on the planet with cameras and scissors.

        A high technology country doesn't need everyone to be at a PhD level nor do they need most of their PhDs to be able to do stunning, world shattering things. Much of technology and innovation is iterative. You buy a silicon fab from Nikon, take

  • that is today's results. the results in 10 years might be the same percentage but China has 4 times our population that means they have 4 times as many "innovators" to come up with new ideas.

    Meanwhile the US is failing behind In 20-30 years when the actual results will matter America is going to get left behind.

    of course American politicians are short sighted enough not to see results 4-10 years later. the longer term view in china is going to bite us in the ass.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      There's this common perception that throwing money at education will solve the problem. History has shown that this isnt true. Why is it that charter schools get better results with fewer resources? It's simple: they don't have teachers unions. Teachers unions allow them to get high pay for doing a shit job.

      I know this is anecdotal, but in the movie Waiting for Superman, they covered a teacher who was filmed by a student reading a magazine while his students were playing craps. The principal fired him. Beca

      • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:21PM (#41355617) Journal

        Isn't it odd how the most socially and economically advanced production powerhouses like Germany tend to have strong unions?

        Isn't it interesting how desperate, fallen empires like the UK and the US are to demonstrate that unions don't work?

        Also a union is not "about the students or about education", in the same way that you don't take your paycheque home at the end of the day "for your company". The purpose of a union is to address the interests of the workforce, not the customer / service user. It can do that well, by resolving differences between labour and management, or it can do that badly, running the organisation into the ground. IOW "power" is exactly what a union is about - strength in numbers.

        • 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:

          http://math-www.uni-paderborn.de/~axel/us-d.html#unions [uni-paderborn.de]

          • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:58PM (#41355937) Journal

            They are more well-functioning than American unions, but it's nothing to do with their being altruistic - on the contrary, they give power to their members. Indeed, German unions are far more powerful than American ones. But German unions tend to handle themselves better, partly thanks to a government which understands the need for (i.e. provides law for) management and labour to cooperate for the good of both sides of industry.

            Neither the UK nor the US get this - even though unions create a low-turnover workforce interested in productivity and self-improvement because workers know that, in return, they're going to enjoy better treatment and security of employment.

            • by slew ( 2918 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @07:12PM (#41356991)

              ...even though unions create a low-turnover workforce interested in productivity and self-improvement because workers know that, in return, they're going to enjoy better treatment and security of employment.

              Oh, if that were the case. Right now, they know they're going to enjoy better treatment and security of employment, so in many unions, it's damn the productivity and self-improvement, it's all about senority...

              Like any other monopoly, at leat in the US, the unions stopped caring after they formed a monopoly (e.g. through mega-mergers like the AFL-CIO in the industrial age). If the AFL-CIO was a bank, I'm sure people would be screaming bloody murder anti-trust. Of course they got a pass. Thus started a era of decline in US manufacturing...

              Of course things are starting to changing in the US, some of the biggest unions under the AFL-CIO umbrella, the SEIU, the Teamsters, and the UFCW are starting to disentangle from the AFL-CIO (officially breaking ties forming the change-to-win federation), primarily because as the old-guard unions seem to stop caring about union issues and more about (Democratic Party) politics. Of course Obama and the Democratic establishment (which relies on their backing) are trying their best to rein them back into a monolithic block. Hopefully, this whole episode will bring about better union leadership in the US, but probably only if the Democratic Party can stay out of it...

        • 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.

          • I'll bite. In simplest of terms to increase the chance of you being able to digest it.

            <quote><p>What makes you think Germany is doing better than the USA?</p></quote>

            Quality of life.

            <quote><p>Per capita GDP? USA: $48K, Germany: $37K</p></quote>

            Buying power.

            <quote><p>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</p>
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              Quality of life.

              That's what HDI measures, which I why I quoted the rankings.

              Buying power.

              As it happens the GDP numbers I quoted are adjusted for purchasing power but if they weren't, the adjustment would work in favor of the USA as the cost of living in Germany is higher.

              Divide by number of people in the country.

              Seriously? 60 versus 5? USA population is only about 3.7 times greater than Germany's.

              national debt share per capita

              Ok, USA: $50K, Germany $57K [wikipedia.org]


              • 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.

            • Buying power????

              Have you been to a grocery store or gas pump in Germany???

              My bag a day habit of das gummi bären became a rude awakening when I visited Germany.


          • by spiffmastercow ( 1001386 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:02PM (#41356403)
            Ah, but the inequality adjusted HDI (you know, the one that measures the quality of life based on the median, not the mean) has Germany at #7 and the US at #23, according to this [wikipedia.org]. We're only 3 spots above Greece, and their economy has completely collapsed. It's great that there's a bunch of total wealth in the US, but if I never get any of it it doesn't do me much good.
          • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:23PM (#41356561) Journal

            GDP is not a measure of purchasing power.

            HDI measured by mean couldn't be more stupid, and is just the sort of parameter I'd expect from someone educated in America.

            University ranking needs to stop confuddling undergraduate education quality with research output. The US and the UK still come out on top at the top for academia, no doubt, but any average high school or university graduate in the US/UK is ignorant as pigshit.

            German innovation tends to be in manufacturing, energy, etc. i.e. stuff people need to live. And one does not solve problems by throwing more money at them.

            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.
            Socialism is slavery.

            Lame. I see you're not here for an argument, but to preach. Go back to America - your dying empire needs you.

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

            How much of that GDP does an average American see? How much does an average German? Look at where Gini coefficients for those two countries are, and you'll know. Hint: it's strongly not in favor of USA.

        • Isn't it odd that in some places, to be considered for a job, you have to join a club that supports political causes you might not support? And everyone just thinks that's ok?

          The problem with teachers unions is that they can wrap their labor concerns (fair enough) in a think-of-the-children argument (dirty).

          The problem with public sector unions is that the tax payers are continuously extorted for more money, as if the public was simply there as a method to fund however many government payrolls the governmen

      • by xs650 ( 741277 )

        Why is it that charter schools get better results with fewer resources?

        On average charter schools don't do better than regular public schools when the data considers similar groups of students ion both schools.

        Data is not the plural of anecdote.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        The same union that prevents those teachers from being fired protects the teacher that dares to mention evolution in a biology class.

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        they don't have teachers unions

        I never get this. Why must there be only 1 union for a profession? Where I live, I can go to several different unions, regardless of my profession.
        They then can do deals depending on the industry or even with separate parts of an industry or even individual companies.
        When I change jobs, I do not need to change unions.

        Also I can be in a union, but I do not have to be. From a employers point of view, there is absolutely no difference. No one will ever ask.

        Sure, there are things

      • Actually, as much as I believe public sector unions are a logical absurdity as well as harmful parasites on the society, I don't think they are the number 1 problem with the education system.

        The problem with the public schools is caused by the lack of competition between schools for students, which is exactly what makes American universities the best in the world. The lack of competition is caused by the system where the school districts get money directly from the government rather then from parents and wh

        • 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 KalvinB ( 205500 )

        Charter school can kick kids out. That's a big reason they get better results. Kids that don't perform don't stay.

        The whole public education system is a mess. We only pay teachers to teach. We don't pay them to grade papers, prepare lessons, spend time working with students, spend time working with peers or spend time working with parents.

        Nobody, no matter how good they are at their job, can sustain working well over 40 hours a week. The irony is that unions like to talk about "what they accomplished"

      • There's this common perception that throwing money at education will solve the problem. History has shown that this isnt true. Why is it that charter schools get better results with fewer resources? It's simple: they don't have teachers unions. Teachers unions allow them to get high pay for doing a shit job.

        Dafuq? I live in Finland, where teachers are 100% unionized, and our unions have some muscle, and flex it from time to time. And yet Finland has one of the best education systems in the world, based on results.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      There is a difference between valuing achievement and valuing accumulation of wealth. As America passes from the former to the latter, it takes a walk from the throne room to the bathroom.

      4) Americans can always go back to school.

      In most of Europe you get not less than one free go - in the US you get between zero and one free go. This potentially makes for a more class-based economy in the US.

      However, failures like France tend to very much grade to a test curve rather than on practice ability - e.g. medicine depends on repeatedly creaming off the p

  • by CyberLife ( 63954 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @03:59PM (#41355409)

    Being good at general scientific reasoning requires a firm understanding of scientific philosophy. This is not a subject many people encounter directly unless they're on a scientific track at a university. Very few, if any, will pick it up just from engaging in scientific activity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:01PM (#41355433)

    Is that they report the mean result, when they really should focus on something like the mean of the uppermost quartile, or somesuch.

    You don't need the whole herd to drive innovation - you need just need to make sure you have a critical mass of sufficiently creative and intelligent people.

    • Mod up, especially true in large geographic nations. If you compare a score in Singapore (a city state) to Malaysia (which includes KL, Penang, but also Borneo), the nation with smaller borders does better in tests because there is less farming etc. geography. Singapore used to be part of Malaysia, which is why I use it in the analogy.
  • Yeah, American "school lag" does not matter, but it doesn't matter for a different reason. It doesn't matter because education is irrelevant in USA, there is no new manufacturing, old manufacturing is leaving. The people who care about their kids will send them to private schools and probably those kids will not have a 'lag' or it will be a smaller 'lag' and kids that are not sent to private schools are on a lower socio-economic status, probably would have been factory workers in the past, but since today

  • An economist would say that, if you take away money, you don't become less wealthy. For a long time the wealth has been a measure of your ability to produce which essentially boils down to the amount of tapped (exploitable) man-power you (and your country) have

    • Citation please.

      I don't know what economist would confuse money with wealth. Money can be converted to wealth, but money itself is not wealth.

  • 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).

    • And it also does not help that some of the tech and trades schools are being pulled into the degree system when they should more drop in / cert like.

      Now when you have places like tribeca flashpoint that is only a 2 year program but gives you real work skills but you still have places like TV channels that want you to have a 4 year Communications degree to work master control.

      Now master control is a very tech job and you need to have skills on how to work the hardware / equipment. Now a Communications degre

    • 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.

      This is a dangerous attitude, and I think it's actually one of the strengths of American education that we don't adopt that attitude. I think the ideal high school experience is a combined, diverse high school for everyone--but with lots of elective hours and extracurriculars so that gifted students can advance faster and follow their interests.

      The notion that "by age 12, you can pretty much tell who the academic stars will be" leads to bad systems like the one that's common in German-speaking countries

  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:16PM (#41355573) Homepage Journal

    Fine, China isn't any better than the U.S. at training skilled workers. But India is, judging from the accents I hear in the workplace.

    Anyway, the OECD rankings are about skill levels, not classroom hours. More teaching doesn't necessarily translate into skills, but better teaching certainly does.

    And let's not forget that we not only can't afford to lag, we can't even afford to just keep up. Americans don't work cheap, so if they want to work, they need to work better.

    • It sounded as if you said workplace rather than some other scientific environment the summary seems to imply... therefore I'm thinking you refer to outsourcing potential rather than scientific prowess.

      While that is tangential to the main discussion, I'll add that it's safe to say India's skilled worker training is a product of their MUCH wider pool of ENGLISH speakers (they can easily interact with us in the modern English-speaking consumer world).

      China's masses are different in that they just can't compete

      • by fm6 ( 162816 )

        The Chinese do engineering too. When I worked for Sun, I collaborated a lot with their Shanghai engineering team.

        Although English is widely spoken among India's elite (a legacy of almost 3 centuries of British rule), it's not a first language for most Indians. They certainly have more good English speakers than the Chinese, but it's hardly a standard lingua franca. When you deal with a call center and deal with some guy whose vocabulary, grammar, and accent make him almost unintelligible, he's probably a gr

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:20PM (#41355607)

    The ratings you see in the OECD summary are averages. The thing is that the US has a much more diverse population and spread in economic status than most other, often much smaller countries in this measurement.

    Results in US suburban schools are generally as good as the top rated countries, and the results of the top students in these schools ranks very highly indeed.

    In any society you don't really need that many innovators to propel growth - and the US has a good population of high achievers due to the broadness of the distribution of educational results it gets.

    The real problem with US society is the size of the tail on the other side of the curve. This represents a real drag on the US economy.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      So you are saying that because of the large numbers, the numbers on the end of the scale are larger as well? Wow.
      Using percentages evens this out.

      • What I think he is trying to say is that often these comparisons don't make sense because education is structured differently in the US. This results in a much more fair sample of the US population going into calculating the "average" for the US compared to other countries. "Developed" countries in Europe select out people for limited education very early compared to the US. The same is often true in Asia. Then only the students that are left take the tests used to make comparisons. So, in countries ot

  • asia is big on the TEST and cramming for a test.

    And they also do solo work as group work.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:21PM (#41355625)

    If I'm understanding this correctly, what they're saying is that the average american does as well at reasoning problems as the average chinese person. Well, that's sorta obvious: Racial, cultural, and geographical differences in populations haven't shown to influence intelligence. But the conclusions they reach are total crap -- I could change the wording and say that "Why Nigeria's school 'lag' has never mattered," and make similar comparisons and reach similar conclusions, but few people are going to say that Nigeria's educational system couldn't use a big upgrade.

    I can replot this data and reach a far less politically correct conclusion: The "lag" is based on economic averages, not most common realities. We have a massive wealth inequity problem in this country, but you'd never know it by simply averaging all the numbers together. Cut off the top and bottom 10% (the edge cases), and suddenly your data looks a helluva lot different. The helluva lot different conclusion is... we suck.

    • by Fjandr ( 66656 )

      That only works if the economy is driven by the middle 80% (of whatever metric you're referring to, as it's not clear if it's wealth, education, economic performance...). Whether it's true or not, the article suggests the economy is driven by the top 25% of performers, so it's more important (according to them) to cut off the bottom 75% of numbers as irrelevant.

      I'd be more likely to believe it's economic performance, regardless of wealth or education. For whatever reason, and the article is certainly right

  • 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 [dropbox.com], 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 dumcob ( 2595259 )
      I don't think countries matter in this conversation. Bright people will follow the best opportunities and settle in locations with highest standards of living. The US still has both.
      • 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.


  • 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.

    So what? One set of students is studying Chinese, which is not easy and a never-ending process. The other set of student is studying English. One set of students is learning how to clean their own classrooms, clean their own toilets, grow their own food, learn good socialist "morals", and learn to behave like a military unit. The other set of students is really not learning any of those things.

    Besides even in China, there are vast differences between schools and between the different populations they serve.

  • The US is littered with policies and regulations built up on shaky statistical evidence. As an example, the policy of student confidence correlation with academic achievement. The idea was that since they are correlated if we increase student confidence we will increase academic achievement. We rank freakishly highest in student confidence but academic achievement isn't increasing.

    The nation of the top scientific reasoners are satisfied with such statistical garbage is beyond belief. Does any of these sta

  • by l3v1 ( 787564 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:50PM (#41355885)
    I have experienced a few education systems (including the US), some myself, some through my sister, some through a lot of relatives, some through my academic contacts' recollections and stories. And I have to tell there are several sides to this matters-doesn't-matter in the case of the US (you know, compulsory Babylon5 reference of the 3-sided sword: my side, your side and the truth).

    So, thing is, the education in the US is as it is, but:
    - There is a constant high influx of students and researchers from abroad, who become part of the system on the higher level, provide talent, and contribute to the US scientific and economic growth. There are not many countries for which this applies as well as to the US.
    - Education in the US might be inferior from some points of view, but there are not many countries where e.g. university labs can afford to spend that much money as at many US universities. And that can count _very_ much, access to journal subscriptions, to expensive equipment, technologies which for a lot of university labs abroad are simply unreachable (some of them for financial reasons, other for export rule reasons, etc.).

    Does it matter that the US education system is sometimes inferior? Well, in the long run it might matter, and I personally can't understand how the US managed to stay afloat from this point of view. You know, geniuses manage to find the way to the top even in a bad education system, but in such a system a lot of middle-average level people who might be very very important contributors to the economy might not raise to a level to actually turn out useful, but instead they remain below, simply beacuse the system doesn't help them enough to reach their full potential.

    Hard and full and proper basic education (I mean sub-university levels here) is also very important, in some sense much more important than the university level, since this creates, establishes and retains the average level of intelligence of a country. I think this is a very important point and much more emphasis should be put there. Money-wise and policy-wise as well.
  • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @04:54PM (#41355917)

    I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

    -Samuel Clemens

  • 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.

  • America works right now because it has the capacity of importing the knowledge workers it needs. When I worked in IT in the NYC area I'm pretty sure that I worked with a greater number of non-Americans than Americans, overall.

    With the United States getting ever more restricted and paranoid in immigration matters, that may not be possible for the future. Let's also not forget that the US's success in attracting that sort of immigration was pretty much entirely reliant on being the one big fish in the pond, w

  • Much. Or at all when comparing across cultures and languages.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:34PM (#41356229)

    "Hey, China beat us again!"

    "Aw, that ranking doesn't matter anyway . . . who cares . . . ? We're better, like, at, you know, stuff that you can't measure . . . got it . . . ?"

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:41PM (#41356269)

    That there edjumakation is fer city folk.
    Lewann and me and the 8 wait 9 kids dont need no more book learnin we already have a sweet doublewide an all them welfare checks we gettin.

  • oh wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Velex ( 120469 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @05:43PM (#41356285) Journal


    Allow me to elaborate. It's the culture, stupid. While the older generation has a tendency to proclaim that the younger generation is somehow in decline, I think that the objective truth that it may just be the case here is made a bit more real to TechCrunch's reaction to these numbers.

    So, essentially, the OECD is saying once again, "Hey, America, you're still hopelessly behind." Now, we have TechCrunch taking a teenage attitude about it. Absolutely amazing.

    What are these mystical "gainful market skills" anyway? How are those measured? I've met more than enough HR bunnies and management majors who can't reason their way out of a paper bag. They got their job because they're an alumnus at blablabla university and know so-and-so, not because they even understand basic principles of even keeping an accurate employee roster on file. But hey, solving their asinine problems makes me money, so why am I complaining?

    It's clear that the USA is running on little more than momentum anymore. Maybe it's true that all you need is a few innovators, but for every Elon Musk who got lucky and made it big, there are 10 rent seekers who got lucky and made it big and 100 "innovators" who are of the same caliber as Musk but just didn't make it big. All that talent is wasted working meaningless jobs where the only innovation they may do is to innovate how to take a broken, unorganized spreadsheet of employee info and somehow feed it into a computer system for tracking absentees.

    Where's a job where I can actually put my talents to some gainful use for the human species? They aren't there, because the market wants someone who can talk buzzwords, foresee "what if" scenarios while being wise enough not to confuse the client by discussing contingencies in a rational manner ahread of time, and somebody whose talents are wasted on reorganizing spreadsheets for arrogant, egotistical figureheads who only have their position because they knew somebody.

    Most people call me the arrogant one, and I'm sure I'll get more than enough flames agreeing. For a long time, I worried that I actually was arrogant. What I learned though is that I'm not arrogant; I'm merely talented. It's the figureheads who are arrogant, who confuse their 6 figure income with having talent. Instead, what I've learned to do is to stroke egos. What a waste. But hey, it pays the bills.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      Hey, dude, it's pretty clear that you're angry because you don't think that you make the money you deserve. Part of that might be your dick-ish attitude. People pick up on that, you know, and maybe that's why you don't get promoted as much as you think you should. It's a vicious cycle.
  • by Gonoff ( 88518 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @06:03PM (#41356423)

    Unfortunately, it's not yourselves you will have to convince

    If being inferior made no difference, why not go the whole hog and do away with all education once children can read, write and do basic arithmetic?
    This would make the conservatives happy because they could keep more of your money.

  • The article tries to associate test scores and attainment levels with the 'US being a titan of innovation' despite them. To innovate you need incentives, funding and a set of highly talented individuals. And I mean innovation in the real sense (and not like bounce-back lists on your phone). Doing poorly in attainment levels implies that we are not doing too well creating that talent pool. When you have cash and you can provide incentives to people to do that work you just get a bunch of immigrants to do th
  • by cartman ( 18204 ) on Sunday September 16, 2012 @08:25PM (#41357533)

    What always fascinates me about this debate is how much cherry-picking of statistics is involved. In all cases, someone in the media or on a blog, cherry-picks some statistic out of the PISA test, then writes a headline like "Oh no! The US is falling behind and we're DOOMED!"

    I've actually read the results of the PISA test. The results are surprising. The US is approximately average among the OECD countries, virtually indistinguishable from France, Germany, or the UK. Even the vaunted German education in science, is only modestly better than US education in science: 539 vs 502. Even Japan, which has a reputation for non-stop studying and cram schools and so on, scores 539 on science, vs 502 in the US. I'm using science as an example because it's the middle case: the US performs slightly better relatively on reading, and slightly worse on math, but not to any significant degree.

    Most industrialized first-world countries are not very different from each other on the PISA test. China is much better, however China is widely known to cheat on this test, and they cherry-pick students from an elite high school in Shanghai rather than randomly from the population, so the Chinese results were prefaced by an asterisk on the PISA results until recently. Aside from the Shanghai Chinese results, most industrialized countries are not very different from each other. Take the science test as an example. Spain performs very poorly, at 489; and Japan performs very well, at 539. Almost all large, industrialized countries are within this range. There are one or two outliers (Finland is an example) but not many.

    The only way in which the US educational system is demonstrably inferior to any other large, industrialized country is the proportion of students who score a 6 (the top score) on the math test. In this regard, a few countries (like Japan, Switzerland, and Korea) have ~7% of their students which score in the very top category of the math test while the US (and most other countries) has about ~2%. This is the only worrying statistic. China (Shanghai) has a fantastic score in this regard, but again it is cherry-picked.

    The lesson of the PISA test is this: most rich countries are quite close together in almost all regards. However a few of them (Japan, Korea, Switzerland, and Taiwan) have a small portion of their populations (less than 10%) who score very well in math.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday September 17, 2012 @10:24AM (#41362253)
    I agree between the high end college graduates and immigration we probably have a near enough engineers and scientists in the US (despite spot shortages of programming fad of the year). However, we may not have enough of the broad middle-trained technicians to operate computerized machinery for manufacturing and clerical work. This is a niche where vocational schools, now rebranded and work-training community colleges could be expanded. However, during economic turmoil these have been under-funded.

Ya'll hear about the geometer who went to the beach to catch some rays and became a tangent ?