Are America’s K-12 schools fixable? And do center-right policymakers have any better ideas than just school vouchers? On a new episode of the Ricochet Money & Politics Podcast, I chatted with Michael McShane, a former inner-city high school teacher and current research fellow in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Here are some highlights of our chat:
What does it really tell us about how we’re doing at educating our kids that we only score so-so on these international education tests?
I actually tend to be somewhat skeptical of a lot of these international assessments. Some of the sampling procedures and things that are used in other countries aren’t exactly in alignment with how we do it here in the States.
For example, you know, China only tests Shanghai. And within Shanghai – Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution has a couple of fantastic sort of exposé pieces on this – they actually don’t test a lot of their immigrant students. So those kind of immigrated to the city from mountains and the countryside. And even some of the other countries that we’re compared too often, things like Finland and South Korea and Singapore, they really – you know, Singapore is just one city. Finland’s a tiny, racially homogenous area. South Korea is the same. So I tend to be a little bit less worried about a lot of those international comparisons.
What worries me is more of just some sort of statistics we’ve been tracking within America over time. I mean, do you remember, back in the State of the Union address just last week, President Obama kind of praised the fact that our high school graduation rate is as high as it’s been in 30 years.
Well, if you unpack those numbers, it’s actually only about 75-77% of high school kids graduate. In an economy that is increasingly based on computers and the knowledge economy, and everything that we kind of know about these things, like, that just isn’t going to get it done. You know, we only have a quarter of our – if we have a quarter of our students perpetually not getting – which is really basic skills that are needed to graduate from high school, we’ve got problems.
If we look at long-term test scores for 17-year-olds, they’re relatively flat since the early 1970s. So there’s this sort of stagnation. We’re spending more and more money, but we’re not really getting a better result. And I think it’s definitely troubling.
Within the United States, we have some school systems that are doing great, others which are not doing so well. So when we look at these international test scores, given all the caveats that you put in there, what does it really say about how we’re doing? I mean, we do have school districts in the United States, which if we only tested those schools, our scores would be as good as some of these Scandinavian countries, but they’d be a lot higher. read more