Education Letter to the Editor

Critical Analysis Missing in Story on OECD Study

February 19, 2010 2 min read

To the Editor:

Your article “Study Links Rise in Skills to Nations’ Output” (Jan. 27, 2010) once again displays Education Week’s curious failure on too many occasions to engage in actual journalism. It reports the findings of a study produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that claims, according to Andreas Schleicher, an OECD functionary, “almost a one-to-one match between what people know and how well economies have grown over time.”

For Mr. Schleicher, “what people know” means kids’ scores on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, and other unidentified “international instruments.” “How well economies have grown” means gross domestic product, which counts the $1 million spent on the last six months of an 80-year-old’s life ten thousand times more than the $100 devoted to a healthy-baby exam.

The absurdity of GDP as a measure of social well-being aside, the article tells us that Eric A. Hanushek of the Hoover Institution was a co-author of this study (the other co-author is not identified), and goes on to quote him extensively. One other source is cited: Susan K. Sclafani of the National Center on Education and the Economy, who concurs with Mr. Hanushek.

Not a single critical or questioning voice appears in the article. In fact, it could just as well serve as a press release from the OECD or the Hoover Institution, where Mr. Hanushek is well-paid in his now several-decades-long devotion to generating studies that support and promote the same conservative ideology.

Perhaps your paper is not sufficiently knowledgeable to understand that this “test scores equal GDP” analysis is highly controversial and certainly contested by many scholars, including economists. Or maybe you don’t care that this article is so profoundly one-sided as not to be journalism, but ideological cant. And we do have to wonder where your editors were in this mess: out to lunch perhaps?

There is, however, some redeeming humor in the article. Mr. Hanushek acknowledges that Finland has the highest-scoring school system of all the OECD nations. Since World War II, the Finns have constructed and embraced what is essentially a socialist system of social welfare and education: high taxes and high benefits.

If dear old Herbert Hoover, many a historian’s pick for worst modern American president until George W. Bush came along, knew that one of his namesake think tank’s scholars was endorsing socialism, even in a backhanded way, he’d turn over in his grave.

David Marshak

Bellingham, Wash.

A version of this article appeared in the February 24, 2010 edition of Education Week as Critical Analysis Missing In Story on OECD Study