Conservatives Should Not Care About Our World Educational Rankings

I used to defend home-schooling on the grounds that homeschooled students were better educated than students in public school.

I don’t use that argument anymore, except to defend homeschooling from charges that it robs children of an education. As a positive argument, it could easily work against me. The argument could be used to justify making great efforts to improve public education. And since many people believe that homeschooling hurts public schools, the failure of public schools to do as well as homeschooling could easily be used as a rationale for ending homeschooling.

Psychotic, but true.

For similar reasons Conservatives need to stop caring about our national education results compared to other countries. We should greet a headline like this with complete apathy: “American high school students slip in global education rankings.”

Overall, according to the U.S. Department of Education, American students’ rankings in math have slipped from 24th to 29th compared to the last test in 2010. In science, they’ve gone from 19th to 22nd, and from 10th to 20th in reading. 

That drop is mostly due to surging performance from regions abroad, especially Asia. China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore are all ahead of the U.S., as are European countries like Poland, Finland and Holland, as well as neighbor Canada and Australia.

When the last study was released, Education Secretary Duncan said it was a “wake-up call” for education administrators. Many experts see high educational standards as a key to global economic success. Amanda Ripley, author of “The Smartest Kids in the World,” told Fox News, “I guess we’ve hit the snooze button.”

First of all, comparing nation to nation is silly. The US population has several of these smaller countries’ populations within it. We have a Poland’s worth of smarter students.

Secondly, in a market economy everyone benefits. If Japan or Singapore starts producing better cheaper products due to their amazing educational levels, then we will be richer for it. Perhaps our growth will slow a bit while it accelerates elsewhere, but we will still be better off.

Third, I’m skeptical of the claim that economic success depends on educational standards.

Fourth, this was a test of fifteen year olds. These teens were “average in reading and science skills, below-average in math.” OK. But anyone can learn math if they need to do so. I know most people think it is impossible but that is mere intimidation. People can even learn entirely new language skills, which are much harder to acquire later in life. So why assume that measuring fifteen-year-olds determines the fate of the nation?

The real question is why do we spend so much more on education? “Money is not a predictor of performance in the study. America spends more per student than all but five countries in the world.”

Rather than a wake-up call to spend more money to “elevate teachers” or do anything else, I think these results should cause us to remove education from the Federal budget and abolish the Department of Education.

Instead, the study will be used as an argument for Common Core.