At Shanker: Are Americans (and Texans) as Stupid as the Media Tells Us We Are?

The media onslaught letting Americans know that they are dunces has gone on for decades. How stupid are we? You might be surprised that the news about our public education system in the United States is not actually as bad as you have been led to believe… Last week I travelled to Washington D.C. to participate in the Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education conversation series at the Albert Shanker Institute. The topic of conversation was the American Education in Global Perspective. The Shanker Institute writes:

Since the 1995 introduction of the TIMSS studies (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and the 2000 start of the PISA assessments (Program for International Student Assessment), much ink has been spilled on the subject of where American schools and American students stand vis-à-vis their international counterparts. While the TIMSS and PISA rankings themselves are straightforward, there is considerable disagreement, often contentious, over what those international comparisons tell us about the state of American education. Both market critics of American public education and critics of the market-based reforms of the last decade and a half point to American education’s international standing as evidence that supports their respective policy agendas, while others dispute the very suggestion that meaningful causal links can be drawn between the international rankings and broad policy agendas. Other flash points revolve around how educational performance is shaped by the rate of childhood poverty, by the professional status of teachers, and by the existence of a national curriculum and national standards. The panel discussed these and other facets of America’s education from a global perspective.

This post is video heavy rather than text. I have also included the web links to the powerpoint, prezi and report after the panelist names. without further ado…

Leo Casey

(moderator) Executive Director, Albert Shanker Institute

Tom Loveless (Powerpoint)

Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution

Julian Vasquez Heilig (Prezi)

Associate Professor, Educational Policy and Planning; Associate Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies; Faculty Associate, Center for Mexican American Studies; Faculty Affiliate, Center for African and African American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin College of Education

Richard Rothstein (Carnoy and Rothstein report)

Research Associate, Economic Policy Institute; Senior Fellow, Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law.

and, finally, the audience and Twitter Q&A along with closing statements from each of the panelists…

p.s. For the basis of my remarks, check out the post Who’s Smarter Than Texans?: Math and Science Test Scores Compared to the World and Nation

p.s.s. See also David Berliner on PISA and Poverty

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Twitter: @ProfessorJVH

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Please blame Siri for any typos.

Erratum: My statement should have been that FL, CT and MA are over-sampled, not the sole sample.


  • Everyone is busy these days!

    When I wrote above about a conversation related to this Blog, I hadn’t had the time to view and listen to the entire discussion offered.

    There’s no point in trying to even comment on the discussions by the three panelists and the audience questions- they speak for themselves- as one audience questioner said, “I wish you all were at the D.C. hearings, and with the U.S. Dept. of Ed.,” before he asked his question on “higher education.” Thanks for your courage Dr. Vasquez H. in taking your shot and perhaps “getting in more trouble” than before.

    I recommend that everyone try and find the time to watch and listen to these discussions!


  • Like that you used Prezi. I would encourage you to to get an education account that give you free access to some additional features and doesn’t have the prezi logo on your presentation or you can put your own logo on there.

    Good data and an important conversation!

    Oh, by the way, I was at a conference in Poland last week and you were sited in a presentation.


  • Pingback: At Shanker: Are Americans (and Texans) as Stupid as the Media Tells Us We Are? | Educational Policy Information

  • I recently told a conservative friend that two books, “The Learning Gap” and “The Teacher Cap” have had a significant impact of school policy over the past decade and a 1/2.. He asked me if Kozel’s book, “Savage Inequalities” didn’t have more impact. My answer, NO!

    I tried to explain to my friend that the meme that Americans are “stupid” compared to other countries has served as the Right Wing – for political purposes! I told him that the “right wing” including the Bush Family and Wm. Bennett under R. Reagan have raked in $billions (particularly Jeb) in their efforts to marketize and “privatize” education. For example, K-12 education, “a for profit” on-line charter school that operates across America and is strong in CA, was started by Wm. Bennett while he was still Sec. of Education under R. Reagan. One of my students, who sits in my public education class right now was a K-12 student. An NCLB mechanism called the “trigger” tied to state test scores, allow private for profit firms to move in and rake public money out of school budgets. I’ve seen it happen in my district. Then, of course, there are vouchers, charter schools, etc., and the effect of which is the “Re-Segregation of Schools in America” particularly in the South and Southwest is causing greater disparities and a larger education GAP for poor and minority children as research is demonstrating. Is anyone listening?

    No, Kozel’s, “Savage Inequalities” or going back to his “Death at an early age” in the 1960’s while perhaps has served some as “talking points” those books have had little effect on education policy- but angered some as “class warfare” that the “right wing” detest.

    Recent studies by university researchers on politics and policy found that America is officially an Oligarchy! Poor citizens and average citizens, according to Professor Dorian Warren, of Columbia University, for example, found in his study that over the past decade zero impact happens from “average folk” on policy as compared to the “super rich” and their influence through lobbying. While many efforts seem now to be happening to re-democratize America, efforts on the right and coupled with recent Supreme Court decisions that make “corporations into ‘people'” has impacted education in particular. The “e-industial eduction complex” with CCSS is affording the same Oligarcy to thrive, in my opinion.


  • Kent W. Elliott Allen

    This may be somewhat off your point, but Americans are no more stupid than anybody else. Our stupid behavior is not related to lack of intelligence. First, misinformation concocted by billionaires for selfish reasons influences many of us believe things that most evidence refutes, e.g., global warming and evolution are shams, and American schools are failing. Second, my personal opinion is that American religiosity influences many of us to denigrate the value of reason for figuring out how things work. Literalist interpretations of Biblical passages written thousands of years ago are accepted as legitimate evidence in discussions about natural and social phenomena.


    • I am a young earth creationist. But I don’t believe that this religious belief has a place in our public schools.


      • Oxymoron: An educated and learned Doctor of Philosophy who is a Young Earth Creationist. Not a personal attack, you just gave me a good chuckle for the day. In my younger years, I would have put my sneakers on and ran as fast as I could have away from any fundamentalist Christian, young earth creationist, etc. As a mellowed and aged agnostic, I am intrigued by the diversity of world views, but much more interested in one’s tangible contribution to his/her fellow man. In that measure, Dr. Heilig, you get an A+. Great work, and keep advocating for the public good.


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