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September 6 2013

Prosperity in the Balance

Vicki E. Alger

Contrary to popular belief, the United States never topped the international student performance rankings. We have been squarely in the middle of the pack for decades. Yet while we stayed still, numerous other developed and developing countries have reinforced their competitive schooling systems, surpassing us in the rankings.

A new book, Endangering Prosperity, by Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann, takes a close look at how the United States as well as individual states compare globally. As summarized by Education Next, here are some startling findings:

Just 7 percent of U.S. students performed at an advanced level in mathematics, lower than 29 other countries.

Only 32 percent of students were proficient (had adequate skills) in mathematics, ranking Americans behind students from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, Estonia, Slovenia and 21 other countries.

The lack of U.S. student proficiency in math and reading is not a "minority" problem. White students lag far behind proficiency averages for all students in 16 other countries.

The costs to our country’s economy are staggering:

Absent a radical change in the way we educate our children, America faces a disconnect between a dynamically changing world economy and a stagnant school system unable to produce the knowledgeable, highly skilled citizens needed to ensure the country's future prosperity. Our lagging schools are costing America hundreds of billions of dollars in GDP each year because they are graduating mediocre students who can't compete globally.

If America could improve its education system so that students graduate with standardized test scores of German students, the economic impact on future GDP would be ten times greater in present value than the total losses from the 2008 recession.

If the United States got even more ambitious and matched the performance of students in neighboring Canada, the equivalent would be a 20 percent addition to the paychecks of U.S. workers every year until 2093.

Bringing the 20 percent of low-performing U.S. students up to international proficiency levels would imply a GDP that averages 12 percent per year higher over the next 80 years.

Despite decades of exhortation from politicians and assurances from the education establishment, we are spending billions in federal tax dollars on education each year without seeing the anticipated results.

Specifically, adjusting spending for inflation per-pupil expenditures are two and a half times what they were in 1970, and class sizes have shrunk by one-third—but performance has flat lined.

To improve American education, we must turn away from Washington and big-government “solutions.” Instead control and funding should return to the local level—away from politicians and special-interest agendas. And it doesn't get more local than parents.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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