This came as a comment:

 

Why do Obama and Duncan insist on naming South Korea as a model? Other than testing results, there is little that is admirable about the South Korean education system and South Koreans would be the first to admit it (I am South Korean, although I was educated in the US because my parents immigrated to — you guessed it — spare my siblings and me from the South Korean education system). Public schooling is basically meaningless, kids start going to cram schools that run until 10pm or later while in middle school. Regular school is just for sleeping and socializing. Parents have only one kid (Korea has the lowest birthrate of any OECD country) because educating them is such an insane cash drain. Even so Korea spends much more of its GDP % on education than the US has or ever would. Korean schools can be better funded, standardized and operated because the central government provides most of the funding and sets the curriculum. Socially, Korea is a very horizontally integrated country (at least superficially) outside of certain well-known wealthy neighborhoods like Gangnam, so there are very few equivalents of inner city schools. Most kids, rich or poor, attend similar schools with similar resources.

However, it doesn’t really even matter that Korean public schools are supercifially decent across the board because the reality is that most of them don’t matter to an extent that makes a poorly performing inner city school in the US look like a fountain of opportunity in comparison. There are specific schools in Gangnam that everybody tries to send their kids to because they are known as magnet schools for the best universities. Average academic achievement is very high in Korea but the results are horrifically unjust – in a recent year it was found that 60% of the new hires by Samsung (the most prestigious employer in Korea) were graduates of a single high school in Seoul (plus of course one of the top three universities). Think about that. You don’t go to that high school and you’re basically screwed if you want to work for the biggest, most prestigious company in your country. No wonder the kids are committing suicide.

Korea has the highest immigration rate among OECD countries because even now, if you aren’t one of the lucky elite, you’re better off trying your luck in a foreign country. Imagine if the US had higher test scores but millions of our best and brightest left every year because the US had nothing for them to do. There is your South Korean “model.” That the President and the Secretary of Education know so little about what they are talking about when it comes to public schools makes me seriously worry about whether they know anything about the other things I don’t have any expertise on, and therefore have to take their word that they have a competent level of mastery on the subject.