Education Opinion

Olympic Edu-Fencing! The Bob Wise vs. Fordham Edition

By Eduwonkette — August 07, 2008 1 min read
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It’s still a day until the opening ceremony, and the edubloggers have already lined up on the starting line (though without their oxygen masks, it seems). Over at the Alliance for Excellent Education, former West Virginia governor Bob Wise announces his planned reporting on our academic standing in the world. And it seems that all of that smog has gone to his head. Here’s an excerpt:

Many of the athletes coming here have trained to compete against their foreign counterparts. This is like America’s high school students, who also prepare for many years, and they also must now compete internationally….What would you say if I told you right now that our American athletes will finish far down the list of nations in this year’s Beijing Olympics? Well, I think you would say “Bob, that’s just crazy.” We train some of the best the fastest and the most agile athletes in the world. Why, in the 2004 games in Athens, the US ranked first in overall medal count. But while our United States athletes usually bring home the gold, silver, or bronze, there is one international competition this year in which our young people ranked 13th. I’m talking about HS graduation rates."

Decidedly cooler and more entertaining is the Fordham video, which previews their Olympics coverage. Here’s what their website says:

This Friday, America's team of finely-tuned physical specimens will start piling up medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Meanwhile, their counterparts in the Education Olympics will face the world's best in a contest of academic acumen, an arena in which the United States has lost its edge in recent decades....Students will compete in 58 events based on four main international measures of student performance, as well as selected measures of educational attainment.

But comparing the international standing of the average US student with the international standing of our most elite athletes (as does Bob Wise) - and then decrying our relative lack of focus on academics - doesn’t make a lot of sense. Take a field trip to Harvard, Yale, MIT, or Princeton and you’ll see that our top students are taking names. Put them in an academic Olympics with students from Oxford, Tokyo University, and Peking University, and we’ll do as well as we do in the Olympics. So I hope that my fellow bloggers will use this opportunity to drill down with these international data and look at how our high performers compare to other countries’ high performers, how our poor students compare to other countries’ poor students, etc.

As for me, I don’t plan to think a lot about education during these Olympics - my eye is on Michael Phelps.

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