Do We Overreact to U.S. Education Rankings?

Today on TechCrunch Gregory Ferenstein called into question the educational rankings that consistently list our nation lower than other countries. He argued that the United States has never ranked at the top of these tests since they were first implemented in 1964, even though our country has often dominated others along economic and innovation standards.

The OECD released a report last week that compared 34 developing economies where the U.S. ranked 14th in higher education attainment, 26th in early childhood education and 28th in high school graduation rates. While these numbers appear troubling, could it be they are not as telling as we think? Gregory went on to explain that this disparity exists because measuring student success in school does not translate to real-world success:

Research has consistently shown that on nearly every measure of education (instructional hours, class-size, enrollment, college preparation), what students learn in school does not translate into later life success. The United States has an abundance of the factors that likely do matter: access to the best immigrants, economic opportunity, and the best research facilities.

The TechCrunch article argues that the measurements in the OECD report are irrelevant. Instead, we should look at what creates innovators. It turns out that “the innovators at the helm of an economy come from the top quarter of students” and the U.S. has “among the highest percentage of top-performing students in the world.” Additionally, the fact that America is a melting pot of diversity may also play a role in our economic success. The article points out that 40% of the U.S. Fortune 500 companies were created by immigrants or their children, so attracting foreign talent is key.

If schooling and rote knowledge do not lead to later-life success, it may be time to rethink what school really means. Perhaps students be taught broader critical-thinking skills and learn to think creatively outside the box.