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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Notations From the Grid (W-End Edition): A Conservative View on Education

Please enjoy the following courtesy the Heritage Foundation:

According to the United Nations, Finland is the happiest country on earth. I have never been there, but it looks like a beautiful place to visit.
Over the last 20 years, the Finnish education system has been the envy of some researchers, writers, and even teacher union leaders in the U.S. because of the nation’s standing in international comparisons. Amanda Ripley, author of the bestselling The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, told NPR, “I think the key to Finland’s success is that they really went long on quality over quantity.”
Yet something has gone awry because the latest round of international test scores released this week revealed that Finland’s 15-year-olds have seen steady declines in math, reading, and science since 2000. According to the OECD, the “declining trend was particularly noticeable amongst the lowest achieving students.” Ouch.
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For the sake of Finnish students, I hope policymakers and educators there are looking for ways to help every child in their country succeed, especially students struggling in school. No one should be gratified that students there are doing worse than 20 years ago, but the lesson for advocates and academics in the U.S. is to be more careful when choosing models to emulate, assuming that a few adjustments can fix the factory.
In fact, our schools are not factories, and we should be looking for more ways to allow families to make decisions in their child’s best interests. As Kennesaw State University Professor Ben Scafidi explains the Daily Signal this week, Washington’s sprawling education machine has not increased student productivity. A good place for reformers to start reforming would be with the scope of federal involvement in education.
Scafidi writes, “Instead of giving more authority over local schools to distant federal bureaucracies, we should empower families to decide which educational settings are best for their children.”
What about U.S. results on the international test?
The U.S. is now above the OECD average in reading, but alas, not because U.S. reading performance has improved. Rather, other countries have seen declines in reading achievement, despite increases in education spending. In mathematics, however, U.S. performance has steadily declined over the past two decades.
Moreover, as The New York Times’ Dana Goldstein reported:
“About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.”
What’s more, the achievement gap between high and low-performing American students has widened.

What Else We’re Working on
You should see a doctor for that. Oliver Sacks, M.D. and author, said one of his patients suffered from a curious ailment: The patient, Dr. P., could not recognize familiar people or things. “When in the street, he might pat the heads of water hydrants and parking meters, taking these to be the heads of children,” Sacks writes.
A higher education special interest group seems to have the same condition and mistakes state proposals to protect free speech for everyone on a college campus for “solution[s] in search of a problem.” Apparently, shout downs and canceled events everywhere from Georgetown University to UPenn to SUNY Binghamton to Vassar in just the last few weeks aren’t troubling enough. I explain the problem and the solutions for the Texas Public Policy Center’s Unlock Higher Ed blog.
How much did that degree cost? Mary Clare Amselem writes in the Daily Signal this week that a new federal web site allows students to “go online and see how much debt the average student graduates with in a certain degree program, along with expected starting salaries.”
“The results indicate that choosing a major matters immensely, especially when relying on federal student loans to finance one’s education,” she says. Read on.
San Diego school district administrators gave “across-the-board” raises to everyone in the district recently, and now they have to find a way to pay for itexplains the Voice of San Diego. “Operating revenues are expected to come up nearly $38 million short by the end of the current fiscal year,” the Voice writes.
This seems to be a pattern in California: In Los Angeles, district officials also awarded raises before deciding where the spending would come from. Earlier this year in the Orange County Register, I wrote, “Making promises to spend more in order to end the [teacher] strike was the easy part. LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner has admitted he still does not know how the district will pay for these spending increases.”
And yet here we are: A San Diego district spokesperson told the Voice “the district hasn’t decided how to pay for the raises and close its budget hole projected for next year.” Administrative decisions like this help to explain why California has more one-way U-Haul trucks leaving the state than nearly any other place in the country.

Jonathan Butcher,
Senior Policy Analyst
Center for Education Policy
Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity
The Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation | 214 Massachusetts Avenue, NE | Washington, D.C. 20002 | (800) 546-2843

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