Education, The Sailer Scheme, And The Bush-Obama Era
March 15, 2009, 04:00 AM
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Are we in the middle of what future historians will refer to as the Bush-Obama Era?

That might sound bizarre—until you notice the continuity of policy on crucial issues such as the economy and immigration. Remarkably, under Obama, much of the conventional wisdom of the Bush years continues to reign unquestioned.

Education policy showcases the stability of the Bush-Obama Age. Last week's big speech on schools given by President Obama to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was essentially a sequel to President Bush's speeches on the same topic in 2001.

Granted, Bush didn't start his orations on American education by leading mass chanting in Spanish as Obama just did:

THE PRESIDENT: "Thank you. [Applause.] Si se puede.

AUDIENCE: "Si se puede!
Si se puede! Si se puede!"

Somehow, though, I suspect that Bush is now kicking himself that he didn't think of that cool opening. "Si se puede!" Wow!

Since the topic is schooling, let's take a test.

Which President orated:

"The highest percentage increase in our budget should go to our children's education. Education is my top priority and by supporting this budget, you will make it yours as well. … Measuring is the only way to know whether all our children are learning—and I want to know, because I refuse to leave any child behind. … "

  1. Barack Obama

  2. George W. Bush

  3. Dwight Eisenhower

It definitely wasn't C. When Sputnik alerted America in 1957 that we were in a dead-serious competition with the Soviet Union for technological mastery of ballistic missiles, the 1958 National Defense Education Act responded by delivering stronger education to the stronger students—where the highest return on investment was attainable. In contrast, both Bush and Obama believe in investing more where the ROI is lowest.

OK, you can tell from the clunky prose style that the quotes above come from Bush in 2001. But the philosophy remains the same.

In his speech last week, Obama told the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce:

"And yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us. Let me give you a few statistics."[Transcript, March 10, 2009]

Uh-oh. Obama is into words, not numbers, so his rhetorical statistics tend to be half-digested factoids that raise more questions than they answer:

"In 8th grade math, we've fallen to 9th place. Singapore's middle-schoolers outperform ours three to one. Just a third of our 13- and 14-year-olds can read as well as they should."

How do American students do compared to foreigners?

A lot of data are available. But we should be cautious about using international achievement tests such as TIMSS, PIRLS, and the PISA to compare the schools in different countries.

Think of the technical challenges faced by the testing agencies. It's not easy to make all the translations of the test equally difficult, to get equally representative national samples to take the test, and to get the test-takers in each country to try equally hard. After all, in contrast to high-stakes tests like the SAT, where students have a personal incentive to do well, and medium-stakes tests like the various NCLB school achievement tests where the principal and teachers are motivated to not have their federal funds cut, these are low-stakes tests with little riding on them other than national bragging rights.

Moreover, studying test results you notice one main thing: countries with racially similar populations tend to score about the same.

For example, here are the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results for eighth grade math.

Grade eight

Country

Average score

TIMSS scale average

500

Chinese Taipei

598

Korea, Rep. of

597

Singapore

593

Hong Kong SAR1, 4

572

Japan

570

Hungary

517

England4

513

Russian Federation

512

United States4, 5

508

Lithuania2

506

Czech Republic

504

Slovenia

501

Armenia

499

Australia

496

Sweden

491

Malta

488

Scotland4

487

Serbia2, 5

486

Italy

480

Malaysia

474

Norway

469

Cyprus

465

Bulgaria

464

Israel7

463

Ukraine

462

Romania

461

Bosnia and Herzegovina

456

Lebanon

449

Thailand

441

Turkey

432

Jordan

427

Tunisia

420

Georgia2

410

Iran, Islamic Rep. of

403

Bahrain

398

Indonesia

397

Syrian Arab Republic

395

Egypt

391

Algeria

387

Colombia

380

Oman

372

Palestinian Nat'l Auth.

367

Botswana

364

Kuwait6

354

El Salvador

340

Saudi Arabia

329

Ghana

309

Qatar

307

As you can see, the scores fall clearly into three categories.

  • At the top of the Math chart are five affluent countries populated by Northeast Asians.

  • The next 22 countries are made up of the U.S., 18 European countries, Armenia (which is technically in Asia), Israel (which has a substantial European minority) and Malaysia (which has a sizable Chinese minority).

  • And then comes the Third World, with the countries that you'd expect to be relatively smart, like Lebanon and Thailand at the top, and the usual suspects at the bottom.

Not surprisingly, these results from school achievement tests correlate closely with the IQ test data by country assembled by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen.

Within these geographic categories, it's not terribly clear why a country is near the top or the bottom.

Oil-rich Norway, for instance, did poorly relative to the rest of Europe. Are the schools bad in Norway? Were the test-takers unmotivated? I don't know …

But with all those caveats in mind, the U.S. has done fairly well in math.

When it comes to reading, the 2006 PIRLS test of 4th graders found that the Northeast Asians did about as well as the Europeans, with Third World countries bringing up the rear again. The 2006 PISA test of 15-year-olds' knowledge of science came out about the same as the PIRLS, overall, with Europeans and Northeast Asians at the top, and the Third World trailing. While the U.S. tended to do above the European average on TIMMS and PIRLS, we were mediocre on PISA.

A 2005 report called "Is the United States Really Losing the International Horse Race in Academic Achievement?" by Erling E. Boe and Sujie Shin of the University of Pennsylvania Education School gave a plausible answer to its title question:

"…when compared with students in other industrialized nations, U.S. students do not perform poorly on international achievement surveys. Instead, they perform better than average overall across six international surveys, three grade levels, and four subjects."

Boe and Shin bravely focus on the crucial fact to be kept in mind when comparing U.S. performance to that of other countries:

"Not only does the U.S. have the largest gross domestic product among the G7 nations [Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, USA], but it also has by far the largest and most racially and ethnically diverse population and the largest number of partially autonomous states."

The large black and Hispanic minorities drag down the U.S. scores. Boe and Shin sum up:

"… achievement scores of white students in the U.S. were consistently higher than those of students in the Western G5 nations, even though these nations were predominantly white. By comparison, the scores of U.S. black and Hispanic students were very low and well below those of the other nations. This is compelling evidence that the low scores of these two groups of minority students were major factors in reducing the comparative standing of the U.S. in international surveys of achievement. If these minority students were to perform at the same level as white students, the U.S. would lead all the other G7 nations (including Japan) in reading and would lead the Western G5 nations in mathematics and science, though it would still trail Japan in these subjects."

Obama orated:

"And year after year, a stubborn gap persists between how well white students are doing compared to their African American and Latino classmates."

Yes, but how are their Asian classmates doing? Rather like those Singaporean middle-schoolers, I suspect.

The President went on:

"The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, it's unsustainable for our democracy, it's unacceptable for our children—and we can't afford to let it continue."

Obama complained:

"In just a single generation, America has fallen from 2nd place to 11th place in the portion of students completing college."

But much of that American decline has to do with letting in a huge number of immigrants from Latin American cultures that don't much value hitting the books hard.

And this is not a problem that's going to disappear through the magic of automatic assimilation, either. A recent landmark study by sociologists with the UCLA Chicano Studies Department found that only six percent of 4th generation Mexican-Americans graduated from college, compared to 35 percent of their "Anglo" counterparts.

The real problem American educational attainment is facing is the growth of the "Non-Asian Minority" [NAM] share of the population, especially Hispanics.

(More details on the curate's egg nature of American K-12 test results, and the role of demographic change, are in Peter Brimelow's education book The Worm In The Apple. Peter pointed out, however, that regardless of results the U.S. education system is extremely costly i.e. inefficient by international standards.)

Clearly, we're in a hole and we need to do something about it.

What's the first thing you should do when you find yourself in a hole?

Stop digging.

As Obama admits, "year after year, a stubborn gap persists" in educational performance between (NAMs) and whites. So why lower the average scholastic achievement of America further by continuing to allow in unskilled immigrants?

We have an opportunity now to improve the average performance of the next generation of schoolchildren in America: offering to pay to fly home unemployed illegal immigrants. It's cheaper for all concerned for them to be jobless back home.

This is a special case of what VDARE.com has called "The Sailer Scheme", paying undesirable immigrants to go away. I proposed this recent, financial-crisis friendly version in a column asking if jobs in the proposed infrastructure boondoggle would be reserved for American citizens, as during the New Deal. (Answer: apparently not.)

Will Obama recommend such a sensible step? I don't know.

But I think we can guess by merely asking: Did Bush?

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]