More from a reader who calls himself “Democracy”:

As I continue to point out, the U.S. already IS internationally competitive.

The World Economic Forum ranks nations each year on competitiveness. It uses “a highly comprehensive index” of the “many factors” that enable “national economies to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term prosperity.”

The U.S. is usually in the top five (if not 1 or 2). When it drops, the WEF doesn’t cite education, but stupid economic decisions and policies.

For example, when the U.S. dropped from 2nd to 4th in 2010-11, four factors were cited by the WEF for the decline: (1) weak corporate auditing and reporting standards, (2) suspect corporate ethics, (3) big deficits (brought on by Wall Street’s financial implosion) and (4) unsustainable levels of debt.

Last year (2011-12), major factors cited by the WEF are a “business community” and business leaders who are “critical toward public and private institutions,” a lack of trust in politicians and the political process with a lack of transparency in policy-making, and “a lack of macroeconomic stability” caused by decades of fiscal deficits especially deficits and debt accrued over the last decade that “are likely to weigh heavily on the country’s future growth.” The WEF did NOT cite public schools as being problematic to innovation and competitiveness.

And this year (2012-13) the WEF dropped the U.S. to 7th place, citing problems like “increasing inequality and youth unemployment” and, environmentally, “the United States is among the countries that have ratified the fewest environmental treaties.“ The WEF noted that in the U.S.,”the business community continues to be critical toward public and private institutions” and “trust in politicians is not strong.” Political dysfunction has led to “a lack of macroeconomic stability” that “continues to be the country’s greatest area of weakness.”

[Note: data on 2009, from the 2010-1011 competitiveness report can be found here: ]

The critics continue to point the finger of blame and responsibility, though, at public schools and teachers. Seriously, you’d almost have to be a moron to buy into this stuff. And yet……

The problem in American public education is largely one of poverty. The data show it. Indeed, PISA scores (the scores usually cited by public education critics) are quite sensitive to income level. If one disaggregates U.S. scores the problem becomes clearer: the more poverty a school has, the lower its scores. The presumed do-gooders seem to think that more “competition” and ambitiousness will cause the schools to fix the effects of poverty. Those effects are pernicious.

A technical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the damaging effects of toxic stress in children – the kind of stress found in high-poverty urban areas – finds that such stress involves “activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis and the sympathetic-adrenomedullary system, which results in increased levels of stress hormones, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. These changes co-occur with a network of other mediators that include elevated inflammatory cytokines and the response of the parasympathetic nervous system, which counterbalances both sympathetic activation and inflammatory responses.”

The result is that “toxic stress in young children can lead to less outwardly visible yet permanent changes in brain structure and function….chronic stress is associated with hypertrophy and overactivity in the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, whereas comparable levels of adversity can lead to loss of neurons and neural connections in the hippocampus and medial PFC. The functional consequences of these structural changes include more anxiety related to both hyperactivation of the amygdala and less top-down control as a result of PFC atrophy as well as impaired memory and mood control as a consequence of hippocampal reduction.”


In plain speak, alleviating poverty and its pernicious effects, and providing children with high quality environments before they get to school, and following up with health and academic and social policy programs while they are in school, results not only in high-quality education but also in a high-quality citizenry….and in promoting the general welfare of the nation. This is surely not what the “reformers” want. It might – will – require a cessation to the gaming of the “markets” and the tax system.

The public education system in a democratic republic is supposed to develop and nurture democratic character and citizenship. That’s the kind of reform we need.

And it’s exactly the kind of reform the “reformers” detest.

Including Arne Duncan.