Educational Trash Talk

by Robert Pondiscio
May 19th, 2009

Associated Press education correspondent Libby Quaid looks at some standard ed shibboleths and finds evidence of false alarms being rung in oft-quoted statistics comparing American students with children in other countries on test scores, instructional time and graduation rates.

On test scores, the U.S. trails high-scorers Singapore, Taiwan and Japan, Quaid agrees.  But the U.S. ”holds its own in the group that comes next, a group of developed countries that, depending on the test, includes England, Germany and Russia.”  In fact, Quaid writes, the U.S. has gained on some of its toughest competitors since 1995, “making bigger strides in math than Singapore and Japan, and in science than Japan.”

On instructional time, “the U.S. has more instructional hours than many better-performing countries, though that raises a separate question about how well American schools spend classroom time,” she notes. 

On graduation rates, comparing the U.S. to smaller nations with declining populations is “comparing apples to oranges.” Comparisons are “based on entire populations, not on what actually happens to students who enter college in a given year,” Quaid writes.  In addition many European countries have switched to three-year degrees from four-to-six year degrees, in the past decade making their rates look better than before.

“Educational trash talk is not new. It is typical at both ends of the political spectrum,” Quaid observes.  “Liberals use poor performance to justify school spending. Conservatives use it to make the case for private-school vouchers and tax credits.”


  1. With that kind of reasoning, I bet Quaid could also argue that the Baltimore Orioles were the team of the last decade.

    Comment by Shelly — May 19, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  2. What a wonderful warm & fuzzy feeling to know that while the Asian countries are kicking our tail, at least we’re holding our own with Russia! Maybe that would’ve been a real accomplishment back when the Soviet Union was a world superpower but Russia’s been on the decline for over two decades…

    Comment by Crimson Wife — May 19, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

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