My Two Cents

Something To Really Worry About

Chris Farrell Jul 22, 2008

The economy is weak. We’re probably in a recession. And it’s hard to see the economy bouncing back anytime soon. I also expect it will take longer than normal for household budgets to rebound after GDP growth picks up.

That said, if you want to really worry I’d focus on education. Clive Crook, columnist for the Financial Times, recently wrote a disturbing article on declining educational levels in the workforce.

In 2002, the US enacted the bipartisan No Child Left Behind policy, which called on schools to boost standardised test scores in a limited range of key subjects and to raise graduation rates. The policy has been almost universally pilloried by teachers and education professionals, who complain that it encourages “teaching to the test”, a narrowing of the curriculum and other forms of self-defeating gaming of the system. They complain, too, that they have been asked to do more with no increase in resources – complaints that have some merit.

Barack Obama says he approves of the law’s goals, but that it has failed in practice and needs to be scrapped. Teachers and their unions have been less pleased to hear him say that he supports experiments with charter schools and other forms of school competition. As the furious debate over No Child Left Behind shows, education reform is an intensely charged political issue, and one where a Democratic presidential nominee needs to take particular care.

Be that as it may, if the US is unable to mend its failing school system, and unwilling to open its doors wider to skilled immigrants, then much of the current gloom about its longer-term economic prospects may, for once, turn out to be justified.

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