Is It a Choice, Oil or Smarts?

Thomas Friedman’s March 10th column in the New York Times drew attention to the fact that the more oil a country has, the lower it scores on student achievement. Now, you cannot say that high oil creates low achievement with just this information. Even so, the fact that this pattern is universal in the 65 countries that were assessed by the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, exam, is food for thought. What exactly is going on here?

The US has education problems,
and our PISA scores show it.

One is inclined to say that the oil-rich countries have gained their wealth the easy way: they inherited it from the dinosaurs. If you realized that you already had plenty of money, even though you had done nothing to earn it, how motivated would you be to study hard? On the other hand, if you live on a big rock with no natural resources—Taiwan, for example—you are probably going to be highly motivated.

The US has education problems, and our PISA scores show it. Not so much from oil wealth, but maybe from wealth in general. Our reading score is slightly above the PISA average, but our math score is below average (29 countries above us), and our science score is only average. The countries that score above us on these tests are our competitors in international commerce and science, and we’re already feeling the effect. Our poor showing will not change by itself. We must not only restore the support for education we once had, but improve it radically.

You can’t badmouth professional educators,
outlaw their professional unions,
claim they are freeloaders on the public dollar,
and expect good results.

What does support for education mean, exactly? The primary element is money, and there’s no way around it. If you want good teachers, and expect to demand excellence from them, you have to pay them well, support their work, and establish well-supported learning situations. Teachers in South Korea, for example, are highly respected, and paid accordingly, and the PISA results show it. Korea is always in the top echelon on all three measures, as is Taiwan.

And what have we done to improve education in the US? Well, we recently devoted a great deal of energy to publicly badmouthing all professional educators, killed their right to professional union representation, called them overpaid babysitters, demanded “accountability” with simplistic standardized students tests, claimed they are lazy freeloaders sponging on our taxes, complained that they retire with unearned pensions ripped off from public money, and so on. All this, on top of the economic mess created by grossly overpaid Wall Street criminals resulted in tens of thousands of the best of our teachers retiring early or leaving the field completely.

Hardly the way to improve education, regardless of whether we have any oil.

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Published in: on 2012/03/16 at 11:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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