Until the 1970s, American schools were high-quality, and American kids were graduating from schools knowing how to read, write, and add, and knowing a great deal about geography, history, and science. Since then, the federal government has become heavily involved in education, and the results are disastrous. Not just dismal, but disastrous.
The most recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test results are from 2009 (they are conducted every 3 years, and a new one will be administered this year), and they confirm this. The US is lagging badly behind the rest of OECD members in terms of education.
In maths, the US is 31st among OECD members (which means a slip by 7 places since 2003, when the US was 24th). In sciences, America is 23rd. In reading (in one’s own native language), the US does slightly better, but is still 17th. Shanghai, China, dominates all three categories, with Finland second in science, Singapore second in maths, and South Korea as the runner-up in reading.
Overall, East Asian countries dominate the tables, but some Western countries, such as Finland, Lichteinstein, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. Canada is 10th in maths, 8th in science, and 6th in reading, just 32 points behind Shanghai in that category. (So, if you’re an American, you should relocate to Canada. 🙂 )
What “solution” do liberals such as “Professor” Stephen Walt (who obviously doesn’t know even the basics of American civics, and is thus inferior to elementary school students) recommend? More federal spending on, and involvement in, education, to be paid for with massive defense cuts.
But they are wrong. Federal spending on, and involvement in, education is the primary (although not the only) cause of this disastrous state of affairs. States have now largely become dependent on the federal government for education dollars (which always come with strings attached), accepting which, however, costs them more than the dollar value of the money.
Moreover, the US ALREADY spends far more on education – both in absolute numbers and per student – than any other country in the world. America’s education system is not underfunded; it is funded far generously – not even conservative governors like Bob McDonnell dare to reduce education costs. Education dollars are treated as if they were sacrosanct.
Those are just two of the many causes of this disastrous state of affairs, however.
Beyond that, most teachers are crappy. And at public schools, they cannot be fired. Think about it for a moment. Suppose you were the CEO of a (small or large) business. Would you bother to run it, or even create it in the first place, if you couldn’t fire underperforming employees, no matter how badly they did their job? Of course not. Yet, taxpayers’ hands are tied. Bad teachers can never be fired.
Moreover, most American kids are simply lazy and unwilling to learn. And if a student is unwilling to learn, he will never do well in tests or on any job, no matter how much the country spends on educating him. And American students have been raised that way: Schools no longer require them to study hard. Instead, they try to “build their self-esteem.” (In Asian countries, you have to EARN your self-esteem.) And they have little homework, at least compared to their Asian counterparts. (An American businessman who lives in Singapore says that his daughter, who is in 2nd grade, has more homework than he had throughout his school years. Similarly, South Korean students have so much homework and so many extracurricular classes that they have no free time – no time for computer games, no playing, no dating, no getting drunk at bars and crashing cars on the way home.)
Even worse, curricula have now been written to be politically correct; meanwhile, the Radical Religious Right’s insistence on “abstinence-only sex education” has ensured that American kids get no real sex-ed at all, don’t know how to protect themselves, and cause an epidemic of teenage pregnancies.
So what needs to be done to repair America’s education system and make it competitive with China’s?
- The first and most important thing that could be done to improve it is to get the federal government out of it. Over 30 years of federal meddling with education have caused a disastrous degrengolade proportional to the degree of federal involvement in education. The Education Department should be abolished and its budget used to reduce the federal budget deficit. States should finance schools out of their own treasuries.
- Make it possible for all teachers to be fired anytime, for any reason, i.e. signing them up (compulsorily) to an at-will work arrangement, and deunionize schools.
- Give all parents the right to homeschool their children without limitation.
- Abolish all limits on the number of charter schools.
- Rewrite curricula to remove all PC subjects and content, and to force students to learn everything they need.
- Give students a lot more homework than what is currently given to them. Stop trying to build their self-esteem. Tell them that they have to EARN their self-esteem.
- Penalize failing schools while rewarding schools that excel.