GRAVES: ‘And that’s the way it is...’Consider source when evaluating information about improving education, economic growth.
By: Joe Graves, The Daily Republic
I miss Walter Cronkite.
When he ended each newscast with “And that’s the way it was…” I knew for a fact that, indeed, was the way it really was. I miss the days when I could listen to a newscast and reasonably assume that the facts presented there had not been distilled through an ideological lens or PC filter in such a way that any data and any event could always be used to support one or another political position.
Alas, those days are gone. (Some suggest they never existed at all but I prefer to cling to the belief, widely reported a half-century ago, that Cronkite was the most credible person in America.)
Today, you really have to verify any news report hasn’t had the objectivity strangled out of it before it ever hit the airwaves. The worst part of this, for me at least, is that even much of educational research and education reporting is today being used to serve some political ends rather than illuminate educators and parents about some heretofore terra incognita.
But, as the catchphrase goes, “it is what it is,” and so our only choice is to thoroughly vet any new research or findings before we accept them. Enter the report from the Center for American Progress and the Center for the Next Generation, “The Competition that Really Matters: Comparing U.S., Chinese and Indian Investments in the Next-Generation Workforce.”
The premise of the report is intriguing because it builds on at least the topic of the work done by Thomas Friedman in his wildly popular, “The World is Flat.” In that book, Friedman noted that competition from the developing and enormous populations in China and India would soon jeopardize American economic prowess and standards of living. The background of the entities issuing the report, decidedly left-leaning, mean, though, that the reader must simultaneously refine the ideas and recommendations through a crucible of objectivity before deciding if they make sense or not.
Which means, as is typical, that their data are good while the inferences they draw from them are less so. The data can be summed in the following statements:
The rate of increase of American economic growth has progressively slowed since World War II. Educational attainment in that same time period grew initially but has plateaued in recent decades.
Chinese and Indian economic growth has skyrocketed in recent years and the growth in their skilled/educated labor force will quickly eclipse ours.
All of which is essentially true. But then the reports go on to ascribe the differences to certain factors, primarily greater educational investment in India and China and the lack of a coherent strategy to improve education in the United States. Give the federal government control of education in America and explode national spending on education and the result will be large improvements in student achievement and economic success. Said in a deep, rich baritone, “No, that’s just not the way it is.”
And there are several reasons for this. First, the economic growth of the United States, China and India are in large part a function of their past. After World War II, every major competitor to the American economy had been flattened (literally). Our enormous growth rates back then were possible both because of internal American factors and because of a lack of competition. Today, our economy is so large that even small percentage point growth represents huge absolute expansion. China and India, however, had dismal economies in the not-so-distant past and so even minor absolute growth posts wonderful percentage gains. So it is with their educational systems. Improving education in both countries has been as simple as building schools and universities and meeting the large, pent-up demand of children and their parents to take advantage of a newly “open” economic and (though less so) political system. In other words, they are now doing educationally what we did in the 19th and 20th centuries and seeing similar positive results thereby.
The problem today, of course, is that simply by matching our enlightened educational policies (education for all), they will soon, because both countries have populations in excess of 1 billion while we have less than one-sixth of their combined total, have skilled labor forces much larger than our own.
But the answer to this educational and economic challenge cannot be found in increased federal control and spending (as if we can simply repeat the common school movement) but rather in doing what American has always done best, finding a new, better and more enlightened means of doing things, in this case educating our children for the challenges of the future, many but not all of which are economic.
Will we manage that? There is no way to be sure, but given the current state of chaotic, free-wheeling educational reform — wildly more robust than anywhere else in the world — the conditions are right. Certainly more right, it should be clear to anyone whose glasses aren’t fogged over with partisan ideology, than a move away from innovation and toward the sort of bureaucratic state-control the grudging abandonment of which has put China and India on the path to economic growth and, hopefully, political freedom.