By Fareed Zakaria
The United States has done very well in harnessing the talents of its top 1 percent and in attracting the top 1 percent from the rest of the world to live and work here. These are the engines of innovation, growth and dynamism. But the country’s vast middle class — and below — has seen its wages stagnate for three decades. And this is getting worse as technology and globalization depress job prospects for people in the middle.
The real story of these tests has been “the rise of the rest.” The United States has muddled along over the past few decades, showing little improvement or decline. Meanwhile, countries including South Korea and Singapore have skyrocketed to the top, and now China, Vietnam and Poland are doing astonishingly well. These countries have workers whose productivity levels have been rising in tandem with their educational achievements.
There are many reasons, but to put it simply, many of these countries are playing to win.
The latest results of a new global exam given to 15 year-olds showed American students to be average in science and reading and below average in math. There were little or no gains in the last decade, while other countries raced ahead of the United States. Anderson Cooper speaks with Fareed and Amanda Ripley, author of the Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, about why children in Shanghai and Finland seem to be doing so much better. This is an edited version of the transcript.
Fareed, this latest study is one of a continuing string of studies that shows the U.S. educational system lagging behind the rest of the world. What do you make of the results?
Zakaria: The study is very revealing. What it shows is that while we're sort of walking around in one of those people movers going nowhere, the rest of the world, very many countries, are on escalators. What this shows is that it's not so much that we've been doing anything dramatically badly, but in the context in which everybody else is playing to win, we're falling behind badly. And all of a sudden, we look at the difference between us and countries like South Korea and Singapore and it's widening. But increasingly, the gap between us and countries like Poland is also widening.
Fareed speaks with journalist Amanda Ripley, author of 'The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way,' about what other countries can teach the U.S. about education. Watch the video for the full interview.
America is exceptional in many ways. Sadly, secondary education is not one of them. The most recent rankings for the Program for International Student Assessment has American 15 year-olds ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, among other developed nations. Countries like Finland and South Korea always rank near the top.
In a 2011 GPS special, we went to those two countries to see what they were doing differently. Investigative journalist Amanda Ripley went one step further. She followed some American kids as they spent a year abroad in high school in those two countries and in Poland. The results are fascinating. The book is called The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.
Amanda Ripley joins me now. So what did you find about those three countries that struck you? You actually have three models that you say that they represent. What are they?
So, South Korea is the pressure cooker model. The extreme case of what you see all over Asia, where kids are working night and day, literally, under a lot of family pressure, to get very high test scores. Now, South Korea does get those high test scores, but at great cost. So that’s one, the pressure cooker model.
Finland is, in many ways, the opposite extreme of South Korea. Not in all ways, but in some. And Finland is what I call the utopia model – they've really invested in quality over quantity and the kids are, on average, doing less homework than our kids, but still achieving at the very top of the world on tests of critical thinking and math, reading and science, with very little variation from school to school or from socioeconomic status from one to the other.
By Diya Nijhowne, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Diya Nijhowne is the director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, which was established in 2010 by groups concerned about ongoing attacks on educational institutions, their students, and staff in countries affected by conflict. The views expressed are the author’s own.
One year ago today, Malala Yousefzai and her classmates were on their way home from school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, when two men stopped their school bus and climbed aboard. Malala described what happened next: “The Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too.”
Although the girls were badly injured, all three thankfully survived. Unfortunately, Malala and her classmates were not the only Pakistani students attacked in the past year. In June, for example, 14 female university students were killed when militants blew up their bus in Quetta, Balochistan, a western province.
Pakistan’s teachers and administrators have also been targeted. Five teachers were killed in January in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. In March, another was shot and killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A principal and six school children died that month during an attack at their school in Karachi.
By Fareed Zakaria
A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development points out that the United States is one of only three rich countries that spends less on disadvantaged students than on other students — largely because education funding for elementary and secondary schools in the United States is tied to local property taxes. By definition, poor neighborhoods end up with badly funded schools. In general, the United States spends lots of money on education, but most of it is on college education or is otherwise directed toward those already advantaged in various ways.
There is debate about the effectiveness of certain early education programs such as Head Start. It may be that providing help to “at-risk families” — treating drug-addicted mothers for example — has a bigger impact on children than a specific enrichment program. Though, clearly, most of us believe that these enrichment programs work. Corak points out that the well-off in the United States spend nearly $9,000 a year on books, computers, child care and summer camps — nearly seven times what families in the bottom fifth of earners spend. In fact, this is part of what makes mobility low.
By Shelly Culbertson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Shelly Culbertson is a senior research manager at the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute in Doha, Qatar. The views expressed are her own.
It’s perhaps inevitable that violence in Iraq, Syria’s civil war, and ongoing unrest in Libya grabs international headlines. But in a part of the world so often associated with strife, significant progress is being made in areas that might come as a surprise to some. Indeed, even as conflict rages, a wave of research and innovation in Arabian Gulf countries is bringing with it significant investment in science and research infrastructure – and even U.S.-style universities.
When I moved to Qatar in 2006 to work at the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute, a partnership between the RAND Corporation and Qatar Foundation, my first project placed me as part of a team to set up the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), a sort-of national science foundation for Qatar. We were a diverse team of Americans, Qataris, Egyptians, and Iraqi scientists who had moved to Qatar for QNRF.
I admit I felt uncomfortable at first. After all, my country was at war in Iraq. How was this going to work? But amidst the regional upheavals, we focused on the opportunity to create something new and constructive together. We did, and we built trusting relationships with each other – but it was far from easy.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
As you know, American higher education remains the envy of the world, and it has been the nation's greatest path to social and economic mobility, sorting and rewarding talented kids from any and all backgrounds.
But there are broad changes taking place at American universities that are moving them away from an emphasis on merit and achievement and toward offering a privileged experience for an already privileged group.
State universities – once the highways of advancement for the middle class – have been utterly transformed in recent decades, under the pressure of rising costs and falling government support.
A new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, shows how many state schools have established a "party pathway," admitting more and more rich out-of-state kids who can afford hefty tuition bills but who are middling students.
Watch the video for the full take or read the column at TIME
By Fareed Zakaria
It's time for the fat and thin envelopes–the month when colleges across the U.S. send out admission and rejection notices to well over a million high school seniors. For all the problems with its elementary and secondary schools, American higher education remains the envy of the world. It has been the nation's greatest path to social and economic mobility, sorting and rewarding talented kids from any and all backgrounds. But there are broad changes taking place at U.S. universities that are moving them away from an emphasis on merit and achievement and toward offering a privileged experience for an already privileged group.
State universities–once the highways of advancement for the middle class–have been utterly transformed under the pressure of rising costs and falling government support. A new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, shows how some state schools have established a "party pathway," admitting more and more rich out-of-state kids who can afford hefty tuition bills but are middling students. These cash cows are given special attention through easy majors, lax grading, social opportunities and luxurious dorms. That's bad for the bright low-income students, who are on what the book's authors, Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton, call the mobility pathway. They are neglected and burdened by college debt and fail in significant numbers.
By Fareed Zakaria
Arguably the most important and innovative idea proposed by President Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night was his call for high-quality, universal pre-school education.
“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” Obama said. “In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children…studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
He’s right. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that the United States now does worse in terms of social mobility than many European countries – especially those in Scandinavia – as well as Canada. What does this mean in practice? It means that a poor child born in the United States is much more likely to remain poor than one born in Canada or Denmark.
By Muhammad Faour, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Muhammad Faour is a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. The views expressed are his own.
The World Economic Forum’s latest Global Competitiveness Report, which assesses the economies of 144 countries and ranks them based on more than 100 indicators, had something to say about education. This is hardly surprising since education is a main determinant of economic competitiveness. The question, though, is whether the index – which relies heavily on business executive assessments for the ranking – really gets education right.
After looking at the country rankings, it’s difficult not to have doubts.
For example, Lebanon and Qatar were among the top 10 countries in terms of quality of math and science education, quality of primary education, and more generally quality of the educational system. Though no doubt a pleasant surprise for Lebanese and Qataris, this assessment is a significant departure from the results of student achievement tests in every international test Lebanon and Qatar have participated in. In the international student achievement tests in math and sciences (TIMSS) in 2007 and 2011 for grade 8, Lebanese and Qatari students scored well below the international average of 500. In math, Lebanon scored 449 in both 2007 and 2011, while Qatar scored 307 in 2007, but 410 in 2011.
Fareed speaks with Bill Gates about education – and what we know about why some teachers are more successful than others. For the full interview watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
What is it that makes a good teacher?
Well, it turns out that the way you engage the class [makes] a critical difference. So an average teacher comes in – and it’s only through research we know this – and they pretty much know what they're going to present during that class.
And looking at the students – and seeing if they're sort of fidgeting, moving their leg – there's a lack of energy in the room going in, asking them questions, getting them engaged, seeing if they can relate to the topic.
The best teacher is very interactive. It's more performance oriented. And that is something that teachers that have gotten feedback can watch [and] do it well.
Calming the classroom down – there’s quite a range of capabilities there. So you often waste 5ive to 10 minutes at the start of the class. That’s not working well.
You know I think it’s fantastic that we’re finally getting to the bottom of why are those amazing people so good. And we're not saying we can get everybody to the very top. But at least we can do a lot better.
By Bruce Katz and Mark Muro, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Katz is a vice president at the Brookings Institution and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program. Mark Muro is a senior fellow at Brookings and policy director of the Metro Program. The views expressed are their own.
Debt and deficits have dominated our nation’s capital for the last two years. From the near government shutdown over a budget impasse in April 2011 to the debt ceiling crisis and subsequent credit downgrade in August 2011 to the recent brinksmanship to avert a fiscal cliff, it has been “all deficits all the time.”
And yet, amidst the fiscal obsession, a slow-moving economic emergency persists. The U.S. faces an overall “jobs deficit” of 11 million to make up the jobs we lost during the Great Recession and account for a wave of new entrants to the labor force. The number of poor and near poor in America skyrocketed from 81 million in 2000 to 107 million in 2011, nearly one-third of the U.S. population.