My well-read wife hands me this report from The Atlantic that includes data on how South Dakota students compare with their U.S. and international counterparts in posting high scores on standardized tests.
The good news: South Dakota has more kids scoring at advanced levels in math and science than the national average. We're 14th overall among the states for advanced math scores.
The bad news: we're getting beat by socialist states like Massachusetts and Minnesota, which are #1 and #2 with 11.4% and 10.8% (respectively) of their kids getting advanced math scores, compared to South Dakota's 6.5%. Our kids are also below average in really good reading, with only 1.9% of our kids getting advanced reading scores, compared to the national average of 3%.
The really bad news: The U.S. is getting creamed by other countries. Thirty countries have a higher percentage of kids getting advanced math scores than ours, including Ireland, Poland, Luxembourg, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, China, Korea, China, and top-dog Taiwan, where 28% of kids score "advanced" in math.
Oh, but this comparison isn't fair. Taiwan and Poland and all those other countries only test the best kids. They don't have all the ethnic diversity that we do to pull down their scores. Or at least those are the excuses we usually hear. But the folks behind these numbers, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and his fellow researchers, have already controlled for those excuses and found the U.S. is still underperforming.
Hanushek has long rejected the idea that more money produces better education, and his latest data upholds that notion. According to The Atlantic, the U.S. spends more per student than everyone but Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Norway. Whatever we're spending our money on (culinary arts programs? new gyms?), we're not getting the academic outcomes we need to compete with the new workers from other countries.
Among the recommendations for better outcomes: more rigorous teacher training and testing. According to The Atlantic, Massachusetts's gains coincide with imposition of a basic teacher literacy test that weeded out over a third of new teachers in its first year. Massachusetts also requires students to pass an exam to graduate high school. (And please, spare me the hand-wringing over "test anxiety." Life is a test. If you can't handle marking a few bubbles with a Number 2 pencil, how will you handle freeway driving? or parenting?)
The U.S. is a world leader in many ways. Alas, our K-12 education system is not.
Update 17:28 CST: Read more straight from the profs:
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