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.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.
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.
FERGUSON: And that’s where I think we have a major problem and that’s why social mobility is declining.
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.