Niall Ferguson just keeps pouring it on!


Concerning our miserable failure: When you’re creating a Standard Group Story, repetition is very important.

Tuesday night, Charlie Rose spent half an hour with Niall Ferguson, the gloomy and frequently misinformed world-famous Harvard professor.

Eventually, it had to happen. Ferguson shrieked about American performance on international tests, with Charlie cheering him on:
FERGUSON (6/18/13): Let’s just look at education. We are failing, miserably, at the level of secondary education—high school education.

ROSE: Right.

FERGUSON: If you look at the PISA study—

ROSE: And these are institutions of education.

FERGUSON: Yes, right. That’s the most—surely, the most important institutions are our educational institutions.

ROSE: Right.

FERGUSON: And that’s where I think we have a major problem and that’s why social mobility is declining.
As usual, Charlie interrupted before his guest could complete his thought about “the PISA study.” For that reason, we’re forced to work with what we have.

Set aside the question of social mobility. Is it true that results on the PISA show we are “failing, miserably” in secondary education?

This claim is part of a very familiar drumbeat. But is it actually true?

The PISA is one of three major international testing programs. Because it’s the one on which American students have scored least well, it’s the one which is routinely cited by the gloom machine.

So how about it? Did American students “fail miserably” on the most recent PISA tests, in 2009?

We’d have to say no, although math performance was poor. In reading, as we noted all last week, American students outperformed the average score of the 34 OECD nations. On a head to head basis, American students outperformed their counterparts in Germany, France, England, Italy and Spain.

In reading, American students outperformed the students in all the major European nations. Would anyone get any such impression from listening to people like Ferguson? But then, here’s what Hacker and Dreifus wrote in a recent high-profile piece in the New York Times, in which they specifically referenced the PISA:

“It is widely known that American students score well below their European and Asian peers in reading and math, an alarming shortfall in a competitive era.”

That gloomy claim is just baldly untrue. But so was this claim from a recent op-ed in the Washington Post:

“Is it surprising that Asian and Scandinavian countries, where teachers are well-compensated and treated with dignity, show higher levels of student achievement than the United States?”

With very few exceptions, American students outscore Norway, Sweden and Denmark (the Scandinavian countries) on international tests. The gloomy claim lodged in that passage was, in a word, untrue.

It’s amazing to see the way our basic understandings are created by repetition—especially by the repetition of claims which are false or misleading. Even more amazing is the way the liberal world simply accepts this process.

We simply don't care about public schools. No fact could be more clear.


  1. Finally, Bob, it has to be said:

    You are wrong. We DO care.

    The evidence is in. Claiming that the misstatements are due to a lack of concern is, by now, being too charitable.

    They do care.

    And what they care about is destroying the existing public education system.

    These aren't mistakes. They are lies. And they aren't accidents from a lack of concern. They are calculated lies, designed with a purpose.

    First, we convince you with our lies that the current system is broken. Then you will be ready to accept the wiping away of the public education system and the near-complete privatization of schools, which is our ultimate profit-driven goal.


  2. There's a war against the real public schools, public school teachers and especially their unions. How dare those public employees belong to unions, the nerve of those uppity teachers. The billionaires' club wants to privatize our schools, hand them over to charter operators and to private schools via vouchers and above all, to destroy teacher unions. So we hear this false bumper sticker repeated over and over and over and over and over and over: to wit, the oft repeated mantra is "ourfailingschools." It's all morphed into one word, ourfailingschools, and it's repeated everywhere, unchallenged, as if it were gospel. It's a damn lie, our schools are not failing. The US has the highest child poverty rate (almost 24%) amongst the wealthy nations. So I would say that our society is failing the children, not the schools.

  3. We must treat teachers with dignity and better compensate them by busting their unions. Only then, can we treat them the way they deserve to be treated.

  4. The false statements pointed out by Bob serve both sides. As Anonymous pointed out, conservatives use them to attack public schools and to attack teachers' unions. But, liberals also use them to fight for greater spending on public schools and on education in general.

    1. I'm sorry, but no.

      As with everything which issues from your keyboard, that is a steaming crock of self-serving shit, David.

      "The system is broken, throw more money at it," which you'd have us believe is the mantra of "liberals," is clearly not an argument but rather a caricature of one, meant to be bought by right-wing rubes such as yourself.

      The lies most assuredly do not "serve both sides."

    2. Here are a couple of examples where additional money went to education because we supposedly weren't keeping up.

      Back in my student days I personally received a fair amount of money from the National Science Foundation because American science education allegedly wasn't keeping up with the Soviets. This was after the shock of Sputnik.

      When my kids were in school, there was a federal program called SCIS to improve science education in the el-hi levels.

    3. Quaker in a BasementJune 20, 2013 at 7:35 PM

      Sputnik? SPUTNIK?!?

      Check your calendar, Rip. Fifty years have passed.


    4. I personally received a fair amount of money from the National Science Foundation because American science education allegedly wasn't keeping up with the Soviets. This was after the shock of Sputnik.

      Money obviously wasted in your case, but more to the point, money also wasted in general. If only we could have advanced American science education without spending a dime, then the Russians wouldn't have beaten us to the moon.

      Oh, wait.

    5. Thanks, David, for giving us evidence that the liberal way (spending more money on education) worked to great effect, and we all know that the consevative way (high-stakes testing and charter schools) doesn't help at all. The tightly circular argument that the kids do better on tests doesn't convince anyone who actually teaches.