American education's race to the bottom

The Department of Education spends billions of dollars annually, and touts phase three of its "race to the top," but the sad fact is that based on testing results, American education is on a race to the bottom. We spend more than any other nation on earth yet rank in the bottom quartile (26th out of 34) of OECD (developed) nations in the latest international comparison, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

We are paying filet mignon prices and getting Sonic Burger results, in other words. I guess the upside is that our unionized teachers have such great job security that they can hardly be fired once they get "tenure." Oh, and the benefits and retirement pay are outstanding.

Naturally, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, is calling for even more money.

"We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators," Duncan said.

The top-ranking countries on the exam - taken by almost half a million students - are in East Asia. Shanghai, whose results were the only ones provided by China, came out in first place:

In math, Shanghai had the highest score with 613 points -- the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above the average for the 34 OECD member countries of 494, and six years above Peru which ranked last with a score of 368. The city also came top in 2009 rankings.

Singapore came second in mathematics with a score of 573, followed by Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Macau.

Having spent a good chunk of my life living in and studying East Asia, the reasons for this dominance are obvious: cultural emphasis on education, intact family structures, and educational discipline, especially the intense effort required to master Chinese characters. There is no magic, and money is the least of the factors necessary for educational success.

America's government schools have been run for the benefit of teacher unions, not for the students. There is an obvious solution staring us in the face: awarding education funds to parents, and allowing them to choose schools suited to their children. But the commitment of the Democratic Party to teacher unions and the billions of dollars available for politics extracted from salaries in the form of compulsory dues make that solution unlikely, at least until the DPUSA is thoroughly rejected by voters.