Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Education in America - Championing Competition or Cause for Concern


Recent reports are again sounding the alarm for the decline of American education. The LA Times highlights that American adults have low (and declining) reading proficiency. The New York Post warns that US Adults are dumber than the average human! But are they, really? How conclusive are the OECD survey results and what do their trends really mean? Surveys are terribly complicated measures of many factors. The interesting thing about them is that they are hard to draw definitive conclusions. But people attempt to because the numbers in and of themselves can appear illuminating. However, correlation does not necessarily explain causation, nor does it explain relative geopolitical outcomes, i.e. global power parity. They do offer some policy insights to be competitive. Hence, the U.S. has had a history of reforming its education system to be competitive. In terms of higher education, the United States remains the dominant world leader in research institutions by a wide margin, nearly three times the rate compared to the next dominant group – Europe. Thus, I tend to be more skeptical and less cynical about the latest round of figures from a table in a survey depicting the worrisome status of American education. Those sounding bells have been ringing since at least the turn of the 20th century.

Here are a few alternatives to further understand the complex nature of education in America and education globally. In context the surveys themselves warn against creating specific policies to address perceived deficiencies, instead offering general observations for broader strategic education initiatives. In terms of meaning, their underlying importance is hard to determine. They may offer insight into the degree of competitiveness a country takes and in what manner, such as congressional initiatives to boost STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) competitiveness. For more understanding of the nature of global education consider the following:

PISA analysis

http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/programmeforinternationalstudentassessmentpisa/pisa2006results.htm

See also 2009 results from the same OECD program.

Lessons from PISA

http://www.oecd.org/fr/edu/scolaire/programmeinternationalpourlesuividesacquisdeselevespisa/strongperformersandsuccessfulreformersineducationlessonsfrompisafortheunitedstates.htm

Interpreting survey results - apples to apples comparison?

http://educationnext.org/are-u-s-students-ready-to-compete/

Interesting comparison of the American hegemony of higher education

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking

Global education trends

http://129.194.160.51/webdav/site/developpement/shared/developpement/cours/E759/Altbach,%20Reisberg,%20Rumbley%20Tracking%20an%20Academic%20Revolution,%20UNESCO%202009.pdf

A bit of history. These education data statistics and their confusing meaning are nothing new. The contrast between turn of the century education reform and present day reform are startlingly similar, to include the analysis of particulars that distort general statistical averages, such as socio-economic factors related to reading. Compare the following introduction chapter to the Education Next.org paper and PISA survey analysis.

http://archive.org/details/monographsonedu01butlgoog

See also how education reform has been a point of domestic policy for a long time (1st chapter)

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&ved=0CEkQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fbooks.google.com%2Fbooks%2Fabout%2FThe_Politics_of_School_Reform_1870_1940.html%3Fid%3DkiPIf6mUoi4C&ei=KNZVUq3gMsnW2gWmuYCwBw&usg=AFQjCNF4zQnB79OTxGp0TLmrGrcGSSvG7A&sig2=rdOch95yV1IwOQHob772bg&bvm=bv.53760139,d.b2I

Congressional STEM initiative

http://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=6aaa7e1f-9586-47be-82e7-326f47658320