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It's the politicians, stupid! Not the educators

This strong refutation of a New Hampsire politico can be used to refute many other politicos of the same stripe.

By Sid S. Glassner

In his column, A Case for Public Education Reform, which appeared in the pages of the Feb. 5 edition of Seacoast Sunday, state Rep. Will Smith (R-New Castle/Rye) tried desperately to turn that which is irrational into the rational. He failed the challenge!

Rep. Smith failed to make his case because his assumptions about public education were based on refried propaganda that's been circulating for about the past three decades. Had he and his colleagues done their due diligence and worked in the best interests of their constituents, they would have discovered that what they parrot about public education failure is nothing more than boilerplate blather.

Bashing public education has become a super-sized sport in America, where facts get swallowed in the drivel of political debate. There is much to be proud of in the history of public education in the United States. We created the first system of universal public education, and our mass higher education is second to none. In the year 2010, the World Economic Forum reported that the United States had an outstanding university system being home to 11 out of the top 15 universities in the world. Such an accomplishment, Rep. Smith, does not emerge from a failing education system.

Sure, serious problems exist in public education. Millions of poor, urban and minority children desperately need the changes that will improve their opportunities in life. However, permitting a parent to "withdraw their child from material they may deem not appropriate" hardly reaches the level demanded of what one can call genuine school reform. Poppycock, Rep. Smith, pure poppycock!

The representative brings up the notion of our children "competing in the global economy." Another meaningless, hollow mantra that been thrown at public schools for quite a number of years but has never been clearly defined. So, I ask him and his colleagues to describe in detail what "competing in the global economy" means and to go a bit further and describe just what a third-, fourth- or fifth-grade classroom that is preparing its students to "compete" globally looks like and why it should look that way. Not at all an unreasonable request given the representative's expressed conviction in the matter.

Taking the position that public school classrooms should be preparing students to compete in the global economy rests on the assumption that there exists a strong relationship linking education and the economy. Here again the representative reveals a lack for searching out the details. For if he had, he would have found in the work of the WEF their study, "Twelve Pillars of Competitiveness," of which only two relate to education. One is "health and primary education" and the other is "higher education and training."

What carries the greatest significance is the fact that in the nine years the WEF has ranked nations on the Global Competitive Index (GCI), the United States has been ranked first or second out of 139 nations. The United States has been ranked first or second out of 139 nations. The United States fell to second in the 2009-2010 report due to the absence of fiscal accountability. No other country has ranked better consistently on the GCI than the United States. Admittedly, education does play a role in economic competitiveness but it is indeed a rather limited one and does not deserve the attention it receives. Remember, Rep. Smith, the Great Recession we are now experiencing was not brought about by our public schools. Rather it was the product of reckless and greedy financial institutions and politicians who looked the other way. If Rep. Smith can find any hard evidence linking public education directly to the economy, he should make his findings public.

Rep. Smith once again slams American public education by comparing the scores of U.S. students with those in other countries. He avoids identifying the tests or the years they were taken or the cohort taking the test. One can then safely assume that he did not bother to analyze the results of the tests and is simply repeating the hackneyed words of public school critics. If he would have taken the time to look at the test scores that have been disaggregated by socio-economic values, he would have found that American students living outside urban centers score among the best in the world. To compare the city of Shanghai with the United States is simply intellectually disingenuous. The population of Shanghai is nearly the same as the population of only one of our states ΓΆ€” California.

Rep. Smith, if our public education system is failing our country as you say it is, then why is it that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2010 that over 70 percent of recent high school graduates were enrolled in colleges and universities? It also reported that approximately 30 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 25 and 34 years old have at least a bachelor's degree. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development published findings in 2009 that reported only six other industrialized nations have a higher percentage of their population holding at least a bachelor's degree, and their economies pale in comparison to the United States.

It might be also of some interest for Rep. Smith to ponder how a country with a so-called "failing public education system" can be the world's largest producer of utility patents or patents for innovations. In 2009, the United States was granted 95,037 patents. The country with the next-highest number was Japan, with only 38,006. The combined total for the rest of the world was only 96,896. These statistics are available to all through the reports published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and are not at all the hallmark of a failing public school system.

Limitations of space restrict further analysis of Rep. Smith's words. However, it should be somewhat clear that repeating worn-out falsehoods and not giving homework its proper attention does not serve the best interests of New Hampshire's public schools and their communities.

Sid S. Glassner has been an educator for more than a half century and is a senior fellow at the New England Society for the Study of Education.

Portsmouth Herald





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