Steven Singer wrote this last year, but it remains pertinent and on the money. He says that there is a narrative spun by Disrupters that American schools are in “crisis” and are “failing.” He says this is baloney, or bologna, whichever spelling you prefer.

Singer says that American public schools are among the best in the world.

He writes:

Critics argue that our scores on international tests don’t justify such a claim. But they’re wrong before you even look at the numbers. They’re comparing apples to pears. You simply can’t compare the United States to countries that leave hundreds of thousands of rural and poor children without any education whatsoever. The Bates Motel may have the softest pillows in town, but it’s immediately disqualified because of the high chance of being murdered in the shower.

No school system of this size anywhere in the world exceeds the United States in providing free access to education for everyone. And that, alone, makes us one of the best.

It doesn’t mean our system is problem free. There are plenty of ways we could improve. We’re still incredibly segregated by race and class. Our funding formulas are often regressive and inadequate. Schools serving mostly poor students don’t have nearly the resources of those serving rich students. But at least at the very outset what we’re trying to do is better than what most of the world takes on. You can’t achieve equity if it isn’t even on the menu.

The important thing to know about the international test scores is that we were never #1. Never. When the first international test of mathematics was offered in the mid-1960s, we came in last.

What holds us back is our high rates of child poverty. If we reduced poverty, we would improve our schools because children would arrive in school ready to learn, and would not lose days of instruction due to illness and lack of medical attention.

The biggest problem in American education, aside from our national indifference to the well-being of students, is that we have a crazy federal law that makes test scores the goal of education. That’s backwards. Test scores are supposed to be a measure, not a goal.

We should aim to be more like Finland, which not only has high test scores without test prep, but has been rated the happiest country in the world. Less testing, more time for the arts and more attention to creativity and divergent thinking. Teachers with autonomy and a love of teaching. Students encouraged to do their best but not measured by standardized tests. You know where Finland got these ideas? They borrowed them from the U.S., and we forgot them and went for standardization. As Albert Einstein said many decades ago, standardization is for automobiles, not for people.