JWR Eric BreindelMona CharenLinda Chavez
Jacob SullumJonathan S. TobinThomas Sowell
Robert ScheerDon FederRoger Simon
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / February 26, 1998 / 30 Shevat (Rosh Chodesh Adar), 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell The Wrong Filter

HEADLINES WERE MADE by the latest results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. Yet nobody should have been surprised, since our students have been doing badly on international tests for decades.

American 12th graders fell below Educationthe international average in general mathematics and general science. In advanced mathematics, our students were tied for last place and in physics they had sole possession of last place.

Students from Asian nations, who usually do very well on such tests, did not take part in these particular tests. So American students are trailing the pack among the also-rans.

While the American educational system is falling behind academically, it is leading the world in excuses. One of these excuses is that more of our students reach the 12th grade, so that we are comparing our average with other countries' elites.

While that may be true for some countries, there are other countries that have as high a percentage of their students finish secondary school as we do -- and some have a higher percentage completing secondary education. Both kinds of countries beat out our students.

Another excuse is that our population has so many disadvantaged minorities that this drags down the average. But when you compare our very top students with the top students from other countries, ours still get clobbered.

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley has responded to the sad results from these international tests by calling them "unacceptable." Nonsense! Such dismal results have been accepted for years and will be accepted for years to come, so long as the National Education Association continues to contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns.

From the standpoint of the NEA, the American public schools are not a failure but a big great success. These schools provide NEA members with jobs where they have iron-clad tenure, automatic raises, and no accountability for bad performances by their students or themselves.

The public schools also have a virtual monopoly on the supply of schoolchildren, except for those whose parents are affluent enough to be able to afford private schools or dedicated enough to homeschool their children. What this all adds up to is that the public schools can do pretty much whatever they want to, including avoiding academic training and indulging themselves in all sorts of fads and psychobabble, including "self-esteem."

In this latest round of international tests, American students led the world in one department: "self-esteem." As in previous international tests, American students had the highest perception of how well they had done. Seventy percent said that they thought they had done well. This would be comic if it were not so tragic.

While there are many particular things that can be criticized in our public schools, even the critics often miss the point when they fail to see that the key to all these counterproductive policies are the people who make them. If we purged the public schools of all the time-wasting silliness there today, we would have accomplished little if the same kinds of people were left in place to bring in new non-academic nonsense tomorrow.

Innumerable tests over many decades have shown that the mental test scores of people who specialize in education are among the lowest of any college students. This is not an accident. Given the incredibly bad courses in education that abound, in even the top universities, intelligent people are repelled, while mediocrities and incompetents sail through.

If you are not going to change that, then you are not going to change the low quality of American public schools. Education courses are a filter. They filter out intelligent students and let mediocrities pass through.

Just as you are not going to catch ocean fish in mountain lakes, no matter how expensive your fishing equipment, so you are not going to get an academically proficient or even academically oriented class of people coming out of education schools and education courses. First-rate people do not come out of such places because they do not go into such places or do not stay if they do.

Raising teachers' salaries will not do it. You will just get more expensive mediocrities in the classroom and more expensive incompetents being graduated from our schools.


2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.