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Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
Commentary

Is the sun rising in the East?

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The scores are in from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, which, every three years, tests 15-year-olds from the world’s most advanced countries.

For the United States, the report card is dismal. The U.S. ranking has fallen to 17th in reading, 21st in science and 26th in math.

Florida, one of the United States’ diverse megastates, competed separately in the PISA exam and scored below the U.S. average.

In the academic Olympics, the American superpower is a mediocrity.

Ranked one through seven in test scores in reading, science and math were Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and Japan. Also well ahead of the United States is Vietnam.

By and large, Western Europe has moved out in front of us, and our close competitors are the Slovak Republic and Russian Federation.

Fifteen-year-olds in two ex-Soviet republics, Estonia and Latvia, also posted grades in math and science superior to those of America’s young.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls the PISA test scores a “brutal truth” that “must serve as a wake-up call” for the country.

Excuse me, but how many wake-up calls do we need?

In October 1957, we got our first when the brutalitarian and backward superpower built by Josef Stalin beat America into space.

In LBJ’s Great Society legislation in 1965 came the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which poured enormous amounts into our pubic schools.

In 1983 came “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform,” the report of President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. Conclusion: America’s schools, even then, 30 years ago, were failing the nation.

Under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, we got another surge in spending with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

How can a lack of money explain our declining test scores when America continues to spend more per capita on education than almost any other country? Yet the more we spend, the lower the test scores we get back in global competition?

Some insist the persistence of poverty in an affluent America is the cause of these declining test scores.

Yet have we not fought a 50-year war on poverty since LBJ’s Great Society? And not only have countless trillions of dollars been spent, the poor in America receive benefits of which the world’s poor could only dream.

America’s poor receive free food, free health care and free education for their children from Head Start through 12th grade. The poor get subsidized housing and subsidized incomes. They are exempt from federal income taxes. State programs and private charities pick up where the feds leave off.

Just as East Asians and Europeans excel in the PISA tests, so, too, do Americans of East Asian and European descent dominate test scores and excel in educational achievement, while our Hispanic and black students trail.

At top universities like Berkeley, Stanford and in the Ivy League, too, Asian and white Americans are overrepresented.

Yet Hispanics and blacks are more than 30 percent of the U.S. population and 35 percent of those in our public schools.

Increasingly, these minorities will represent the nation in international academic competitions.

Where, then, are the grounds for optimism that we can turn this around?

And if we cannot, ought we not accept the inevitable?

Patrick J. Buchanan’s column is distributed by Creators Syndicate.

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