The Corner

Friedman Phones It In

This is one of those pieces where you hardly know which nit to pick first. Target-rich.

It has a modest overlap with the Spengler piece I posted a day or two ago.

There are millions of kids who are in modern suburban schools “who don’t realize how far behind they are,” said Matt Miller, one of the authors [of the study Friedman is reviewing]. “They are being prepared for $12-an-hour jobs — not $40 to $50 an hour.”

A student should be prepared for the best job he can reasonably aspire to, given his abilities and personality. For a lot of students, that would be a $12-an-hour job. Whatever happened to the dignity of labor? If schools try to prepare all students for jobs as cardiologists, patent attorneys, and derivatives traders, the inevitable result will be that huge numbers of students will find the work too hard, give up, and drop out.

And why should a student prepare for a $40-an-hour job in (say) computer software development, when it is universally known — yes, even among high-school kids — that firms would rather bring in foreigners on H-1B visas to do these jobs for $25 an hour?

If America had  … raised its [educational] performance to the level of such nations as Finland and South Korea, United States G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion higher.

If America had wanted to raise its performance to the level of such nations as Finland and South Korea, perhaps a good first step would have been to encourage mass illegal immigration from Finland and South Korea.

If we had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher.

But nobody knows how to do this. We’ve been trying for forty years, with nothing to show for it. (More on this in my NRO column tomorrow.) There is a vast literature on test-score achievement gaps. (More on that tomorrow, too.) If Tom Friedman has a new suggestion, let’s hear it, because to the best of my knowledge, we are all out of ideas.

If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been narrowed, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher.

How on earth could such a thing be calculated? Narrowed by how much? I’m tempted to say what my old Dad would have said to a statement like that:  “If my aunt had whiskers, she’d be my uncle.” (Well, that’s the bowdlerized version. Dad was more forthright.)

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