The World's Smartest People

American students may not perform that well on math and verbal tests, but the U.S. is still a magnet for brainpower.

Our Educational Innovations Are Great! So What If They Fail?

America will never do what it takes to raise its educational levels.

News Item: Americans' educational report card continues to plummet.

You recall the 2010 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, and the clamor it caused? The United States scored 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and 25th for mathematics.

If we didn't do much worse, we didn't do better, in 2013. This time, we scored 26th out of the 34 OECD countries in math, or clearly below average. While we were average among OECD nations for reading and science, our scores didn't improve there, while other nations' scores did.

And this is despite our costs per student being twice as much or more as other nations! And this is despite the charter school revolution (charter schools often spend several times what public schools spend per student for longer school days and enrichment programs). Little know facts: the Washington D.C. schools per student costs under Michelle Rhee, former D.C. Schools Chancellor, another saviour of American education, were the highest in the nation. And this is despite the massive investments by the Gates Foundation and others (e.g., Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) in education.

As I explained when the prior PISA scores were released, in order to improve American education, we need to do two major impossible things (or at least things we are unwilling to do): 

  1. Provide people in deprived environments—a sizable, and growing, minority in America of 15-20 percent—with reasonable housing, economic, and social support (measures on which we are continuing to decline);
  2. Curtail our massive cultural investment and belief in the irrational and supernatural, including not only the godhead, but angels, ESP, possession by spirits, as well as getting Republicans, fundamentalists, et al. to believe in evolution and global warming! 

In other words, as I said, if we have a sizable group of kids who are not integrated into society, their reading levels and math and science scores will never improve as a group. That the U.S. has the largest population of unintegrated, impoverished people drives our low PISA rankings (having low incomes alone, which occurs in other countries, isn't the explanation).  Not dealing with our social-income disparities—no matter how much we spend per student, gnash our teeth, watch hit movies like "Waiting for Superman," employ private educational contractors, and have NBC "education nation" specials (I watched MSNBC host of "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough, scratch his head over the failure of all of these great education innovations to boost scores), means that nothing will change. And it hasn't!

On top of that, of course, we have the regular battles to teach creationism as the equivalent of evolution.  This thrust is led by prominent political figures in our country, several of whom usually run for president because they have a large constituency in the Republican Party, and one of whom may someday be elected.  For example, a battle is going on in our second largest state, "whose governor, Rick Perry, boasted as a candidate for president that his schools taught both creationism and evolution."  The panel that selects school texts for Texas includes "members who do not accept evolution and climate change as scientific truth."  Could this have anything to do with our low science ranking as a nation?

My new book (with Ilse Thompson), Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program is available for pre-ordering.

Follow Stanton on Twitter