- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2013


It’s time.

It’s time to look again at how the United States stacks against other countries in education now that Education Secretary Arne Duncan blew it on Monday.

Suffice it to say, no matter who’s doing the measuring and regardless of which yardstick is used, we’re not doing as well as we should be as a world superpower.

Switzerland, Finland and tiny Singapore grab first, second and third place, respectively, on the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Human Capital Index, which ranks training, educating and protecting the world’s most precious resource.

In North America, Canada sits in last place among the top 10; the United States is 16th and Mexico comes in at No. 58.

The U.S. has been lagging for quite some time in math and science. Our disjointed teaching-and-learning policies and practices mean our fourth-graders failed to claim a top 10 spot in math in 1995, 2003, 2007 and 2011, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

TIMSS, as it is called, said American eighth-graders fared better in 2007 and 2011, but still didn’t rise above Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, which consistently make the top 10.

In science, American fourth-graders cracked the top 10 list all four years, while their eighth-grade peers fell from ninth place in 2003 to 10th place in 2011.

Believe it or not, right now there are considerable discussions on Capitol Hill and in the White House about how best to infuse our children with the right knowledge and learning skills to push America up the list.

Unfortunately, the push is focusing on the status quo, whose No. 1 request is for more federal funding and whose No. 1 blunder is increased federal intervention.

Mr. Duncan had the opportunity Monday to be a game-changer for American families and businesses, but he blundered.

In the hours leading up to the shutdown of the federal government, America’s education chief sounded like a partisan politician trying to punch his way out of the Beltway bubble, the ultimate sustainer of the status quo.

His speech at a National Press Club event was, interestingly enough, titled “Beyond the Beltway Bubble,” and his inbred intent was to spend an inordinate amount time trying to out-bicker Republicans.

For sure, he led us on a cross-country trek, reminding us that some school districts are trying to lift American schoolchildren from the rungs of the academic ladder labeled mediocre.

But not once did his prepared text explain that our schoolchildren — our future leaders — are struggling to get to the top.

In fact, Mr. Duncan’s remarks were so fixed on Washington infighting and what he and the Obama administration are up against, that he never even used the word “global.”

If a globally competitive perspective is lost on Mr. Duncan and President Obama, God help us.

The ongoing discussions on education will soon come to the fore once the government shutdown ends and lawmakers’ and policymakers’ full time and attention turns to the federal budget — where trimming federal largesse should rule the table talk.

States and localities don’t need bureaucrats inside the “Beltway Bubble” telling them how to run their public education offerings any more than the manly men on the Hill need to be told that it’s OK to wear pink and coral.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (a manly man on the phalanx for education reform) has already vowed to teach Mr. Duncan and President Obama a thing or two about how to fight a good fight.

And a good schoolyard fight happens immediately after the bell rings.

The shutdown will end sooner than you think.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmon@washingtontimes.com.



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