It is a tough time to be an American. Suffering through the worst and most prolonged economic downturn of the last eight decades, America has taken a hit right to the solar plexus of its psyche. This is particularly true regarding the state of the American education system. Television commercials and political campaigns constantly bombard us with statement decrying the “collapse of the American education system.”
Emblematic of these calls of collapse and horror is this snippet from the International Education Corporation: “The United States still has the largest economy in the world, but the United States is losing ground to many other countries that prioritize education and developing their youth.” (IEC) Seemingly supporting this contention are a series of polls showing the world slipping in the rankings of educational systems of “highly developed countries” such as The Economist Intelligence Unit which ranks the United States 17th of 40 measured countries. (TEIU) Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it.
One major flaw with using standardized testing to measure the success or failure of an educational system is that it measures neither creativity or work ethic both huge factors in societal and economic success. America has been a huge immigration draw as people recognize that with creativity and hard work the sky is the limit and America has benefitted from the huge influx of talent that has been drawn to this country. What draws the world to the United States? A free market economy that attracts these immigrants from all over the world and the lack of any traditional class or other societal structures that restrains success in other parts of the world. These are both things that America has had a huge international advantage for more than a century but which it is now turning its back on in an effort increase its world standing “in the rankings.”
Fortunately, these tests are misleading and not really indicative of the quality of education in the United States. Unfortunately, these tests have become the life-blood of school administrators to show the “success” of their school driving more and more time into preparation for standardized testing at the expense of real education. Studying for the test has become the norm while real learning, expression and creativity have taken a major hit. This educational wrong turn was magnified by the horrible “No Child Left Behind” policy which played to the lowest common denominator rather than allow educational flexibility. This soul crushing policy really should have been named “No Kid Can Get Ahead Or Be Creative” policy.
Taking a look at the top five ranked national education systems makes my point clearly. In order they are 1) Finland, 2) South Korea, 3) Hong Kong, 4) Japan, and 5) Singapore. (Rankings) What do these countries have in common? They all are largely homogeneous countries with either extremely strict immigration policies or with very little immigration. The largest portion of the immigrant populations in each of these countries are skilled and educator workers coming to the tiny nations for a specific opportunity.
Not only do the immigration lists almost perfectly create a reverse order from the educational rankings, they demonstrate why we should NEVER have started to try and emulate them. Finland ranks 104th in the world in the intake of immigrants with only about 100,000 immigrant residents making up less than .1% of the world’s immigrant population. South Korea is 58th in the world with about 500,000 resident immigrants making up less than .5% of the world’s immigration population. Singapore is 22nd in the world with about 1.8M resident immigrants making up .9% of the world’s immigrant population. Japan is 20th in the world with 2.2M immigrants making up about 1% of the world’s immigration population. Hong Kong is 14th in the world with about 3M resident immigrants making up 1.6% of the world’s immigrant population. The United States is 1st in the world with about 38M resident immigrants making up about 21% of the world’s immigrant population. (United Nations)
Now before flipping out, please understand that I am arguing that our melting pot society is an American strength, one that we are going to lose if we continue to socialize our society and to squelch creativity. People from all over the world literally fight their way to America understanding that it is truly the land of opportunity. Once here, the sky is the limit and your potential is only governed by your intelligence, creativity and effort. This crazy melting pot country has created some of the best and most creative art the world has ever known. Music, film, television and literature spread from the United States throughout the world.
Much of the wealth of the United States is found from the creativity that comes from bringing together a multi-cultural society and letting everyone have at it with only the market to determine your success or failure. These creative folks were the great inventors of the past two centuries with Edison, Bell, Gates and Jobs leading the way to job creation and opening the doors of opportunity. The United States had good engineers, scientists and other professionals but it was not unique in that way. Where it was unique was the creativity that this folks were allowed to nurture, express and grow.
About a decade ago, America started to panic that “it was falling behind the world” in the standardized test rankings and a multitude of earnest policy measures were put in place to “bridge the education gap.” Using Japan as a model, a program was crafted to raise American test scores across the board. Incentives and disincentives were put in place to reward and punish schools for their success or failure in raising standardized test scores. ”No Child Left Behind” was adopted on the theory that EVERYONE was going to do better. We poured money into our schools dramatically increasing the number of teachers and REALLY (and unnecessarily) increasing the number of school administrators. (Administrator Increases)
To pay for these staffing increases (especially the unnecessary and extremely expensive school administration staffing increases) schools had “no choice” but to eliminate art, music, auto shop, band and similar creative classes that did nothing to help with standardized test scores. What did these added billions of dollars do to improve the standing of the United States in the world’s standardized test rankings? They declined even further. (Education Week) In the meantime we bored the pants off of the brightest kids who had to swim in place while we tried to pull along the kids being left behind and we drove all creativity off of campus. Despite getting no return at all on our multi-billion dollar investment school districts continue to plead for more money – money that is unlikely to improve test scores.
The solution is relatively simple to me. 1) First we need to accept that the United States is simply unique. We do NOT want to replicate Japan or Japan’s economy, we want to enjoy the fruits of an American economy that is the true measure of the place of the United States in the world’s educational structure. 2) We want to restore programs the foster creativity. Creativity and innovation is what has made America powerful, not rote recitation of facts and figures. 3) We need to restore our free market system and move away from socialistic concepts that are weakening the individual’s ability to succeed and break free from class.
The tide of immigrants coming to this country is what makes the United States strong. Its ability to assimilate those differing cultures and emerge stronger is a unique American attribute. Big government programs that equalize everyone’s income regardless of talent, effort or creativity stifles the desire of the best and the brightest to fight to come to America and instead encourages those that just want a free ride.
Creativity, capitalism and hard work made this country great and can keep it great. Standardized testing will simply continue to draw America back to the pack. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.