Too many naked kids
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Bill Barth
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   Seriously, you just have to love this quote: “Only when the tide goes out do you find out who is not wearing a bathing suit.”
        Hard to get that visual out of your mind, isn’t it?
   The quote is from Warren Buffett, the “oracle of Omaha,” who made his fortune thinking up pithy quotes.
        No, wait, that was Barack Obama. Buffett earned his money as the shrewdest investor on the planet.
        I lifted the quote from a Thomas Friedman column. He’s the Pulitzer-prize winning columnist and best-selling author from the New York Times. I’ve been a Friedman groupie a long time, particularly since I read his book “The World Is Flat.” Since that work he has written a follow-up book, called “Hot, Flat and Crowded.”
        Friedman is a world-class scholar on the subject of globalization. Mostly, he thinks it’s a good thing, driving change and innovation and prosperity across a shrinking and interdependent planet.
        Of course, now that millions of people are losing jobs, it may be time to write “The World Is Hot, Flat, Crowded and Really Scary.”
        Anyway, back to the Buffett quote.
        Friedman’s column was about the state of American education. The tide, in his construction, is international competition. Friedman concludes there’s a lot of nudity in the American schools. He cites a recent study titled, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.” That study concluded that America’s K-12 system is getting its rear end kicked by students in other nations.
        One look at the photograph accompanying this column tells readers the writer well remembers the classrooms of the 1950s and 1960s. Many of us older folks are convinced schools were better then and our teachers taught us more. Guess what? The evidence is on our side.
        According to Friedman, the United States dominated the world in K-12 education during the ‘50s and ‘60s, consistently kicking international butt. Things began to slide in the 1970s and, by the 1980s, a famous study concluded U.S. schools were awash in “a rising tide of mediocrity.”
        Has it gotten any better? No. Friedman notes a 2006 study — the Program for International Student Assessment — which measured skills of 15-year-olds in 30 advanced industrialized nations. The United States ranked 25th of 30 in math, and 24th in science.
        “That put our average youth on par with those from Portugal and the Slovak Republic,” Friedman wrote.
        Now, you might say, “What’s wrong with the Slovak Republic?”
        Or, you might say, “America can’t put up with that.”
        Count me among the latter.
        As industrial jobs disappear, and workers skilled in manual labor or machine operations find it tougher to find employment, the premium obviously shifts to education. We can’t outsource the training of our kids.
       This seems clear: If foreign country after foreign country does a better job educating their kids, and America gives up millions of lesser skilled jobs, the future looks more than a little alarming.
      During the campaign, President Obama said he wanted to pay teachers more — but he also said he wanted to expect more. He has supported merit pay; performance benchmarking; and weeding out bad teachers. His pick for Education secretary, Arne Duncan, goes even further by endorsing school choice, tenure reform, longer school days and longer school years.
      Of course, Obama got millions from the National Education Association — the teachers union — to win the election. One recalls that he was loudly booed as a candidate when he addressed the NEA convention and repeated his reform platform. He hasn’t said much about reform since the inauguration. Coincidence?
       Let’s hope — hey, that’s his word — that changes, and soon. Friedman is not Rush Limbaugh. He’s a liberal writer for a liberal newspaper. And he says we’re in trouble.
      The economic tide is going out.
       Just look at all those naked kids.