'Poor schools endanger U.S. prosperity'

U.S. schools not catching up in international rankings, Stanford economist says

Though academic achievement of U.S. students is improving, it still ranks poorly compared to other developed countries and is not catching up, Stanford University education economist Eric Hanushek told a room full of students Tuesday.

If U.S. students could catch up with Canadians over the next 20 years, it would translate into 20 percent higher paychecks for U.S. workers for decades to come, he said.

Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, spoke in a speaker series sponsored by the Center for Educational Policy Analysis in Stanford's Graduate School of Education.

He presented economic graphs to illustrate his recently published book, "Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School," which explores the link between a nation's academic achievement and economic growth.

Hanushek's view clashed with that of education researcher Diane Ravitch, who two weeks ago criticized the education reform movement and called for a boycott of standardized testing in remarks at Palo Alto High School and Stanford.

"Diane Ravitch said you shouldn't pay attention to tests but if you do pay attention to tests the U.S. has done better over time, and it's true," Hanushek said Tuesday. "The U.S. has improved, but it has not changed places in the international standings."

But some states within the U.S. -- Maryland, Florida, Delaware and Massachusetts -- do much better than others, he said.

"If the rest of the nation go to this level we'd be improving and getting to the positions" of higher-performing countries like Germany, Canada and Finland," he said.

A nation's economic growth is far more important than business cycles, taxation and regulation in determining prosperity, he said.

The economic costs of the 2008 recession "pale in comparison to the cost of not improving our schools," he said. "Long-run economic growth depends on skills of the population, human capital.

"Discussion of regulation, taxation are interesting and important in the small, but they're dwarfed by the skills of the population." And educational attainment for people at the bottom as well as the top matter for the nation's prosperity, he said.

Hanushek has argued that spending is a poor predictor of educational quality.

"Spending per pupil has quadrupled in real terms since 1960 yet the performance of our 17-year-olds is flat," he said Tuesday. "That suggests we've been putting money in the wrong places.

"We've increased teacher salaries and cut class size but neither has been particularly effective in pushing achievement forward. The only thing that does matter is teacher quality and we haven't had policies that ensure an effective teacher in every classroom, contrary to what my friend Diane Ravitch says."

Internationally, he said, higher performing countries tend to have accountability systems, good examination systems, more pay for performance, more choice and more preschool education, but there's wide variation on how such policies are implemented.

Hanushek's new book, co-written with Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessmann, was published in June by Brookings Institution Press.

Chris Kenrick


Posted by Martin Omander, a resident of Rex Manor
on Oct 16, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Very interesting perspective. And most refreshing of all: someone who actually looks at the data, instead of making guesses, for what would improve education.

I agree that education plays an enormous role in national wealth. Just look at Finland. They have far fewer natural resources than the US. In 1960 their GDP per capita was 41% of that of the US. Then they doubled down on education. Now they are at 92% of the US GDP per capita.

Posted by Jaime, a resident of Whisman Station
on Oct 16, 2013 at 5:40 pm


Web Link

Posted by Ted, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm

It does not matter what schools do when all of our good paying jobs are outsourced to other countries and a local tech jobs go to foreign nationals with H-1B visas.
Meanwhile all our tech companies are moving to Austin, TX where the business climate is not over regulated and over taxed.

You also have to look at the example of Albert Einstein who had to teach himself physics and calculus from old college texts because his high school would not offer these subjects.

Posted by Nick, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 17, 2013 at 8:47 am

>Internationally, he said, higher performing countries tend to have
>accountability systems, good examination systems, more pay for performance,
>more choice and more preschool education, but there's wide variation on how
>such policies are implemented.

We will never have sensible improvements like these in the USA as long as Unions control our schools.

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 17, 2013 at 1:34 pm

"Spending per pupil has quadrupled in real terms since 1960 yet the performance of our 17-year-olds is flat," he said Tuesday. "That suggests we've been putting money in the wrong places.

Or, could it possibly be that throwing lots of taxpayer money at schools is not the solution?

It sounds crazy but maybe raising standards, holding students and parents accountable as well as teachers, and getting rid of social promotion could be part of a workable solution.

Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 18, 2013 at 9:39 am

What? Hold teachers accountable? Set expectations on them?

Same conclusion that many other "studies" have come to. It won't get anywhere because we are so stupid as to let our public employees have unions.

Exactly how are public employee unions good for the public? I dare someone to make a case for that. Teachers are a perfect example of how they are bad for the public.

Posted by Nicole, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 18, 2013 at 11:19 am

I can't believe that Finland was brought up as an example to compare ourselves too in this context. Finland has a great educational system, as it highly values teachers and allows then to teach, not worrying about testing or competing to be "the best". They don't have tests or HW till high school, aren't measured for 6 years. Their goal is to provide equal healthcare, food, and education to all - so all have the same opportunities. I agree we are spending money in the wrong places - get it away from testing and textbook companies, consultants and lobbyists and top heavy administrations, and stop letting corporations dictate what we teach. Give it to the teachers and administrators at the local level.

Web Link
Web Link

Posted by FinsWin, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 18, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Finland kids study, because there is nothing to do there. It's relatively boring to what we have here in the US.

Posted by ericka c, a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm

unions are stupid. look at bart, handcuffing bay area commuters because they can't settle on a work rule that says that if they work on sat., they get overtime pay, even if they call in sick earlier in the week. who figures?

Posted by Jaime, a resident of Whisman Station
on Oct 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm

They have a teachers union in Finland.

Web Link

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