We have always complained about education in the US

I Agree With Bob Somerby’s Challenge to Ezra Klein & Kevin Drum: Will Progressives Stop Engaging in Willful Ignorance About Education?
[Via Mike the Mad Biologist]

I write about education and educational data a lot, and I’m always struck by the insistence that the U.S. K-12 educational system is DOOMED! This is a staggering display of willful ignorance that rivals creationism (and, arguably, is more pernicious). Without going through the entire backstory (that’s what links are for), some U.S. states–relatively large ones–excel, to the point where they do better than every European country and most Asian countries. These states also do better than expected, given their childhood poverty rates; some cities also do a better than expected job of educating poor children.

Regarding long-term trends, according to the NAEP, African-American students have increased reading test scores by the rough equivalent of three grade levels during the period of 1971-2008:

Figure 1
(from here)


It is very easy to continue complaining about education – we have apparently been doing it as long as we have had public schools. In 1943, the New York Times was shocked to discover that a large number of college students could not identify who George Washington was – some thought he was President during the War of 1812.

Thomas Jefferson complained about the poor quality of our schools. In the 1880s, politicians suggested that the public school system was so ineffective that it should be abolished. In the 1920s, parents complained about the progressive reforms that provided group activities rather than grammar and drills.

Here we have the point that some states have education numbers higher than most countries, outdoing all European ones. They are doing a great job.

As long as we have some states that are producing some of the best students in the world, we have a hope of being competitive. And even the laggard regions are better today than they used to be.

2 thoughts on “We have always complained about education in the US

  1. I hate vague data! Which States? What is meant by “good students”? Where do I find studies showing how the data was acquired?

    1. The data is in the links. In the studies that compare various test scores from other countries and the US – ones that have been used to bash America – the data shows that some states are actually quite good. So if you are going to use data to say US schools are doing a bad job compared to the world, the same data shows that some states are better than everyone else. As I recall Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire are some of the states.

Comments are closed.