Academic journal article Education Next

Today's Education-Industrial Complex: Why Aren't Schools an Issue in the 2008 Election?

Academic journal article Education Next

Today's Education-Industrial Complex: Why Aren't Schools an Issue in the 2008 Election?

Article excerpt

Results from the latest international tests arrived just as Education Next was going to press. In math and science, the United States again trailed the average international score achieved by students in the 57 test-taking nations that together comprise 87 percent of the world economy. Embarrassingly, the United States now lags behind Poland, which lifted its scores more than any other nation. Meanwhile, Finland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and our next-door neighbor, Canada, won high marks.

So why hasn't the condition of the nation's schools become a top issue in the 2008 election? Why is lagging student performance going unnoticed so far, undiscussed by candidates, questioners, and commentators alike?

In this issue, Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann ("Education and Economic Growth," page 62) demonstrate the critical contribution to economic growth that good schools can make: If the United States were to join the world leaders in math and science this coming year, the country's Gross Domestic Product, within a couple of decades, could be expected to rise by an extra 5 percentage points--enough to cover the full cost of its education system.

Ah, there's the rub. Most of the economic payoff does not fall within the four- to eight-year horizon of our duly elected public officials. If a country fails to educate its young, the nation does not suffer until all those candidates are writing their memoirs or become subjects of posthumous biographies.

Candidates must worry about the present--and the present requires that one pay close attention to interest groups, especially to powerful teachers unions that pour vast sums into political campaigns. Between 1989 and 2006, the National Education Association (NEA) came in fourth among all entities contributing to national campaigns, right behind the National Association of Realtors. With the NEA opposed to meaningful accountability, genuine school choice, and anything resembling merit pay, politicians have little to gain from trumpeting reforms that might get schools back on track.

When the special interests get control of policy, the consequences can be disastrous, as the housing credit morass reveals. …

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