Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

International Comparisons

July 11, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

In her Commentary “Quick Fixes, Test Scores, and the Global Economy” (June 11, 2008), Iris C. Rotberg takes out after people who are concerned about the performance of U.S. students on international assessments. She frames common beliefs as a series of “myths,” but unfortunately her myths have considerable scientific support.

Ms. Rotberg’s essay reads like a legal defense of our current schools. First defense: Performance on the tests has nothing to do with schools, but instead arises from family socioeconomic status and poverty. Second defense: The international comparisons are not meaningful because we test all kids, and other countries do not. Third defense: International-test performance has nothing to do with economic competitiveness; if anything, it is our small population (300 million) that hurts us in competition with China and India.

Unfortunately, her defense fails on all grounds. Starting from the bottom, we have clear scientific evidence that the growth of national economies is strongly related to the skills of the population as measured by international math and science assessments. On these tests, U.S. students’ performance is mediocre at best.

Such skills are not the only thing that counts—and the quality of our economic institutions, the limited governmental intrusion in markets, and the strength of our colleges and universities tend to make up for the increasingly low skills of the workforce in the United States. But it would be wrong to conclude that skills do not matter.

Further, while some developing countries do not have universal secondary education (and thus, by implication, have spotty test-taking on international tests), neither do we have universal secondary education. Our rate of completion of secondary schooling now ranks below the median for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Test administration does not explain our low international rankings.

Finally, simply noting that poverty affects student achievement is not sufficient to absolve our schools of any complicity in low achievement. Again, while multiple factors enter in, schools can definitely change the learning trajectory even of students from low-income families.

Denying any problem, save perhaps the existence of poverty, is a huge mistake. Facing international competition with an increasingly low-skilled population by international standards is the silent crisis that will only be fully apparent some years in the future—when recovery will be very difficult, if not impossible.

Eric A. Hanushek

Senior Fellow

Hoover Institution

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.

To the Editor:

Iris C. Rotberg said she wanted to do some myth-busting, but instead repeated one of the biggest myths of all: that poor kids in America struggle academically because of “large inequalities in school resources.”

This is patently false. According to recent National Center for Education Statistics “Condition of Education” reports, in the 2004-05 school year (the latest with data) the quintile of U.S. districts with the highest concentration of poverty actually had the largest average current expenditure per pupil, at $9,892. Districts with the lowest concentration of poverty came in a distant second, at $9,263. Data for total expenditures—current plus capital outlays—reveal that at $10,768 per pupil, the richest districts did spend the most in 2002-03 (again, the latest year with available data), but the poorest districts spent the second-highest amount, at $10,191.

Apparently, the “resource inequalities” myth is one that needs a lot more bustin’.

Neal P. McCluskey

Associate Director

Center for Educational Freedom

Cato Institute

Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Only readers in total denial can fail to recognize that a stealth campaign is being cleverly waged to pave the way for privatization of education in this country. The latest ploy involves invoking the dire threat of global competition to gin up a crisis.

But as Iris C. Rotberg makes abundantly clear, a robust economy has little, if anything, to do with public schools. In fact, corporate malfeasance and ineptitude, coupled with myopic government policies, have put the United States in the position it finds itself today.

Every charge that critics now make in their indictment of public schools would be immediately dropped if all K-12 education were to be privatized tomorrow, even if no evidence of better educational quality emerged. That’s because what readers are being fed is a red herring.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the July 16, 2008 edition of Education Week as International Comparisons


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP