Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
Education Opinion

Schools and the Economy

By Walt Gardner — September 11, 2013 2 min read

I’m not an apologist for public schools in this country. I readily admit that some of them are abysmal. But I think it’s reasonable to expect those who blame them for the economic health of the nation to provide credible evidence to support their views. I’m referring now to the remarks made by Robert Gordon, a professor of the social sciences at Northwestern University (“The Great Stagnation of American Education,” The New York Times, Sept. 7).

Gordon asserts that economic growth in this country has gone “hand in hand with rising educational attainment,” and that schools have not done their job in graduating better educated students than in the past. Certainly improved skills of workers can make companies more profitable, which in turn have the potential to make the economy more robust. But I think fiscal policy and corporate accountability play a far more important role in this regard. The causes of the protracted recession have nothing to do with the shortcomings of public schools. Anyone doubting this needs to read Lawrence Lindsey’s The Growth Experiment Revisited (“How the Fat Years Were Born,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 10).

Yet Gordon rejects this explanation, preferring to focus instead on education. He claims that the most productive people are paid higher wages. But that is also questionable. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s highest paid CEOs over the past two decades were either fired, forced to take government bailouts or in charge of companies that paid huge sums in fraudulent claims (“Many highly paid CEOs end up as failures, report says,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 28). These CEOs were extremely well educated, many with degrees from marquee-name universities. Yet they proved that nothing succeeds like failure in the executive suite.

Like other critics, Gordon points to scores on the Program for International Student Assessment as proof of the failure of public schools. But as I explained in a letter to the editor published on the same day that his essay appeared in the same newspaper, there is a difference between a testing meritocracy and a talent meritocracy (“School’s In,” The New York Times Book Review, Sept. 8). Students can score high on standardized tests and still lack the wherewithal for success.

Gordon compounds his error by citing the Knowledge Is Power Program and the Harlem Children’s Zone. He says that they have “erased racial achievement gaps.” That’s not true. They have narrowed the gap largely because they have benefited from huge financial resources available to them from their board members (“Is the Promise Real: The Harlem Children’s Zone Becomes a Template for National Change,” City Lights, March 2010). For example, the annual budget of the HCZ has grown from $6 million in 1994 to $74 million in 2008. (I do not have the latest figures.) Moreover, it enrolls about 1,200 students, which is a fraction of the number of students in the neighborhood it serves.

I don’t deny that public education is at a crossroads, and that it has the potential to affect the economy. But if schools are going to take the correct path in the years ahead, it’s important to understand the facts. Gordon does not help.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Learn directly from the pros why K-12 branding and marketing matters, and how to do it effectively.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
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
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Human Resources Manager
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Communications Officer
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Hamilton County Department of Education
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read