Sunday, April 26, 2009

Global Achievement Gap

As I continue to read blogs and encounter discussion, comparing public education in the U.S. and the rest of the world, I recently picked up Tony Wagner's book on the issue, The Global Achievement Gap. While I am only a chapter in, and I concur with Wagner on some assertions, I am still frustrated by the blanket comparisons of separate school systems, especially when they are focused on issues such as international standardized test rankings and graduation rates. Both of these issues are arbitrary in many ways, as well as myopic at best in terms of true evaluation.

One of Wagner's early references that gave me pause was to Thomas Friedman's work in The World is Flat. Friedman has regularly noted in books and columns how America is "falling behind," and he warns that U.S. students will face increasing competition in the "global community." The problem is Friedman, and by reference Wagner, often asserts that the math skills of foreign students give them an advantage as American companies offshore accounting and engineering jobs to countries such as India and China. This is a deceptive claim, as both authors ignore the fact that companies offshore this work, not because the foreign workers are better, but because they are cheaper. Thus, the "crisis" that is discussed in many blogs about students' use of calculators implies that the lack of skills will cost American workers their jobs. The reality might be much simpler - a matter of cost, not talent.

This sort of assertion, which is bought by many commentators and politicians outside of the classroom, does a huge disservice to discussions about education reform.


Claus von Zastrow said...

Friedman recently wrote a New York Times op-ed suggesting that American students are being prepared for $10/hour jobs when they need to be ready for $40-$50/hour jobs. While he's certainly right that all students should have an equal opportunity to prepare themselves for the most challenging and remunerative work, it's not at all clear that there will be enough $40-$50/hour jobs out there for all American students. Even in good times, we might well far short of the promise to American children that their hard work will be rewarded.

mazenko said...

That is exactly the point - many students are being deceived with false expectations of a the greater earnings that "automatically come" with a bachelors degree.

Friedman also ignores the $40/hour jobs that come from basic trades which cannot be outsourced - electrician, mechanic, plumber, technician.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

One other point on the $40 and $50 an hour jobs. Two of my kids went to college in the 90s when they were saying that if you became expert at computer programming, you were set for life. They both did that, but those are the jobs that are now being shipped out. Both of my sons are okay, so far, but a lot of people they worked with aren't. And as you say, it wasn't because they didn't have the skills; it's because the programmers in India were cheaper.