Is American education getting worse?

Inequalities within the US education system are more important than differences with other countries.

Students in the multi-age program at Orangethorpe Elementary School in Fullerton, Calif., work on a program together. Should Americans be alarmed about the state of US education?

No, says Kauffman senior fellow Ben Wildavsky in an outstanding essay on Foreign Policy. And forget that myth about the rest of the world leaving us in the dust:

If Americans' ahistorical sense of their global decline prompts educators to come up with innovative new ideas, that's all to the good. But don't expect any of them to bring the country back to its educational golden age -- there wasn't one.


In this coming era of globalized education, there is little place for the Sputnik alarms of the Cold War, the Shanghai panic of today, and the inevitable sequels lurking on the horizon. The international education race worth winning is the one to develop the intellectual capacity the United States and everyone else needs to meet the formidable challenges of the 21st century -- and who gets there first won't matter as much as we once feared.

No one would deny that education is America can be vastly improved, but part of Ben's point is that educational inequalities within the United States matter much more than the ostensible gaps between countries. It's hard to avoid the conclusion, noted by Brink a couple of weeks ago, that education is at the root of many of America's economic difficulties. But arguments premised on alarmism are not an answer.

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