American Schools Are Underperforming but Not Underfunded

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by Benny Huang

American students are slipping further behind their peers from overseas, according to a study from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Out of sixty-four countries surveyed, the US earned a grade of “average” in reading and science, and “below average” in math.

The ranking system is a little confusing because thirty-four countries count themselves as members of the OECD, but the organization studies and ranks sixty-four.

The poor showing in relative rankings appears to be the result of improving scores in other, mostly Far Eastern countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan. Our raw scores stayed fairly even while theirs shot up, resulting in a decline in relative standings. In math, American kids were twenty-fourth out of sixty-five in 2010 but twenty-ninth in 2012. Reading isn’t exactly our strong suit either—we dropped from the tenth position to the twentieth in just two years. How embarrassing. At this rate we’ll be on par with banana republics ten years from now.

The boondoggle of public education is an American shame. There’s something very wrong with our schools that seems to defy all of our most well-intentioned remedies. Without a clear diagnosis as to what ails our education system, we’ve stumbled around, searching in vain for the right medicine.

A few things haven’t worked, that’s for sure. No Child Left Behind seems to have left plenty of children behind. The Department of Education has not stopped our freefall through the educational rankings. “New math” and other educational fads are a flop too. As it turns out, finding the right mathematical answer really is important. The OECD awards no points for having the right process.

The federal school lunch program is another failure. The original rationale for providing free or reduced lunches was to improve academic performance. Johnny can’t read, you see, because Johnny’s hungry. So we instituted a program that worked about as well as any other government program. If the latest OECD report is any indicator, Johnny’s still illiterate. In the United States, one of the most overfed nations in the world, hunger is always an excuse not a reason.

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