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Poor models to follow

It is way past time to put a lie to the claim that U.S. schools – including Indiana schools – are failing. This Bloomberg Businessweek story should help.

Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford Law School and director of research at Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, writes about the quality of engineering students from China and India:

My research team at Duke looked in depth at the engineering education of China and India. We documented that these countries now graduate four to seven times as many engineers as does the U.S. The quality of these engineers, however, is so poor that most are not fit to work as engineers; their system of rote learning handicaps those who do get jobs, so it takes two to three years for them to achieve the same productivity as fresh American graduates. As a result, significant proportions of China's engineering graduates end up working on factory floors and Indian industry has to spend large sums of money retraining its employees.

That certainly doesn't follow the popular narrative of U.S. students being outperformed by their Chinese and Indian counterparts.

Nor does this:

The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms, and take risks. They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation; why Chinese and Indians invest their life savings to send their children to expensive U.S. schools when they can. India and China are changing, and as the next generations of students become like American ones, they too are beginning to innovate. So far, their education systems have held them back.

But then, acknowledging that U.S.schools are doing well doesn't stir the electoral base or satisfy the private-sector school reformers contributing to campaigns. It's counter to the anti-teacher union rhetoric churned out by well-funded interest groups.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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