Oh Lord, spare me the liberal claptrap:
In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future—the human capital produced by our K-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the U.S., because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income.
What’s that? It’s not liberal claptrap?
By GEORGE P. SHULTZ AND ERIC A. HANUSHEK
Mr. Shultz is a former secretary of State and a distinguished senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Mr. Hanushek is a senior fellow at Hoover and a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education.
Over the past half century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations. In the chart nearby, we compare GDP-per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with achievement results on international math assessment tests. The countries include almost all of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries plus a number of developing countries. What stands out is that all the countries follow a nearly straight line that slopes upward—as scores rise, so does economic growth. Peru, South Africa and the Philippines are at the bottom; Singapore and Taiwan, the top.
Current U.S. students—the future labor force—are no longer competitive with students across the developed world. In the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings for 2009, the U.S. was 31st in math—indistinguishable from Portugal or Italy. In “advanced” performance on math, 16 countries produced twice as many high achievers per capita than the U.S. did.
If we accept this level of performance, we will surely find ourselves on a low-growth path.
Take our own state of California. Once a leader in education, it is now ranked behind 40 other U.S. states in math achievement, placing it at the level of Greece and foreshadowing a bleak future of ballooning debt and growing income disparity.
But the averages mask the truly sad story in the Latino population, soon to become California’s dominant demographic group. Hispanics attending school in California perform no better than the average student in Mexico, a level comparable to the typical student in Kazakhstan. An alarming 43% of Hispanic students in California did not complete high school between 2005 and 2009, and only 10% attained a college degree.
Anyone worried about income disparity in America should be deeply disturbed. The failure of the K-12 education system for so many students means that issues associated with income distribution—including higher taxes and less freedom in labor and capital markets—will be an ever-present and distressing aspect of our future.
Examples abound of the ability to make sharp improvements in our K-12 system. By not insisting on immediate and widespread reform we are forgoing substantial growth in our standard of living.
Not bad for a couple of conservative Republicans, huh?
Americans are tired of paying taxes (excluding Stephen King, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates, of course) not because they’re stingy and mean—quite the opposite. They are tired of seeing their all too limited dollars blown on government waste and fraud, and, just as much, on outdated liberal orthodoxies. Yesterday, we reminded you of the staggering increase in welfare costs over the decades (without any accompanying increase in economic competitiveness); today, it is education.
Note the authors don’t say a thing about spending. That is the liberal approach, from local overrides to Congressional budgets (the authors cite California). Schultz and Hanushek call for reform, immediate and widespread reform. What that means is open for discussion—but I’d offer vouchers and other methods to make public schools compete for the business of a consumer class known as parents. If, after those reforms are put in place, a reasonable argument can be made for more spending than the billions already appropriated every year, we can talk then.