Is American Education Keeping Up?

Minnesota educators can take some pride in overall education results. For example, we were ranked first or second, among all states, in several rankings reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2013. The problem, however, is that our main economic competitors in coming years will not be other states, but other nations. When it comes to other nations, Minnesota—and America—do not measure up. The facts are sobering.

According to a November 20, 2014 Blueprint publication by the Center of the American Experiment, author Mitch Pearlstein provides this context:

Minnesota, with more than 10% of its students at the advanced level in math, ranks second in that category among the 50 states. That’s the good news. The bad news is we nonetheless trail 16 other countries, winding up roughly equal with the likes of Slovenia. Such middling achievement will exact larger and larger costs, year by year.

While I don’t agree with all the recommendations of this conservative think tank, I do agree with their identification of the problem:

Put succinctly, a root cause of our educational shortcomings is too much control from above and too little freedom below, as has been the case and basic frame of Minnesota and American schooling for a long time. For just one example, think here of how many schoolsentwined in the quicksand of school bureaucracies and systemsare slower than broken abacuses in taking robust advantage of what digital learning has to offer students, be they the strongest or weakest in class.

He later quotes Ted Kolderie, the “godfather” of charter schools with this metaphor:

Thirty kids climb into a bus in St. Paul and head south on I-35, with a teacher on a mic pointing to various things out the windows as they roll along. Some kid says, “I missed that. I was looking at something else.  Can we go back over it again?” “No,” the teacher says, “we can’t stop and do that again.” Another student says, “Gee, this is interesting. Can I explore a little bit?” “No, we can’t do that,” the teacher answers again. And then a third student says “I’ve been down this road before. Can’t we go any faster?” “No, we can’t do that either.”

Pearlstein concludes that Minnesota suffers from three achievement gaps, not one:

  • The gap between academic performances of white students and students of color.
  • The gap between all Minnesota (and American) students compared to all students in much of the industrialized world, with young people in many countries routinely learning more across the board.
  • The gap between Minnesota (and America’s) strongest students compared to the strongest students in much of the world, with such young people elsewhere routinely learning more.


What to do? Check out Thursday’s blogpost.