“If we put our minds to it, there’s nothing we can’t do together as Americans,” said Rick Perry on the stump yesterday. “Why, if we really apply ourselves over the next 10 or 20 years, we can have schools as good as those in Estonia or Slovenia!”
Okay, the Texas governor didn’t say that. But he could have. Because matching the math achievement of students in Estonia or Slovenia — or Slovakia or Iceland — or Norway, Sweden and Denmark — not to mention Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and Belgium — would represent an achievement that has eluded Perry after a decade in the saddle. It’s also eluded leaders in just about every other state. And that’s before we compare our states to true world-beating education systems in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Finland, whose students outperform U.S. kids by so vast a margin it makes you wonder why parents and employers haven’t launched a revolution.
A senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the host of the new podcast “This...Is Interesting,” Miller writes a weekly column for The Post.
“Where’s the outrage?” is always the last cry of those losing a political argument, but when it comes to Americans’ complacency over mediocre schools, things get more complicated. Poor families know perfectly well that their kids are getting the shaft, but they lack the clout to demand (and pay for) better teachers and facilities. And when middle-class parents hear that U.S. schools fare poorly in global assessments, it’s been easy for local leaders to claim they’re exempt from these trends while pointing to modest steps that create the illusion of progress.
Well, now the gig is up — thanks to research being published today by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and the magazine Education Next — and the shocking facts need to become a staple of the 2012 campaign. By finally bringing global comparisons on respected tests down to the state level in a credible, accessible way, “Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?,” written by Paul Peterson, Ludger Woessmann, Eric Hanushek and Carlos Lastra-Anadon, has done a great public service.
We know the unfolding campaign will focus on the jobs gap. With this report, the fodder is finally there for the debate we also need on the schools gap — the gap that ultimately matters if our children are to have any chance of preserving their standard of living.
It’s not easy to get presidential candidates off their talking points when it comes to schools. You can probably recite the GOP slogans yourself: Get Washington out of the way. More choice and competition. Hold teachers accountable. Blah, blah, blah.
Here’s my antidote to the anodyne: In the early GOP primary and caucus states, we need parents, educators, CEOs, labor leaders, foundations and the press to come together to trumpet this report’s findings and use them to elevate the issue through high-profile events, special education debates, candidate report cards and everything else they can think of — including creative heckling. Get students themselves to ask candidates why Estonian math scores seem beyond our reach. It’s scary but true: If we don’t demand much more than the usual pabulum on schools from those seeking to lead us, America’s middle class is going the way of the dodo.