The following is a little piece of disinformation that I wouldn't make to much of except for the fact that many people think the utterer will be a candidate for president in 2008. This is NY Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaking to the Urban League.
"Next year is the 25th anniversary of the publication of 'A Nation At Risk," the landmark study that showed how American students were falling behind students in other nations--and the consequences we would face it it continued. Well, it did continue--and it got worse. Much worse. Today, our schools are further behind than they were 25 years ago--even though we've doubled education spending over the last several decades. If you did that with your 401(K) or your pension fund, you'd work for the rest of your life and die broke!"
I guess we could start by asking, "is that what Risk showed?" Among the indicators of risk exactly one has to do with international comparisons and of the 40+ papers commissioned by the group, three deal with comparative education.
And then we could ask, "what got worse?" What consequences were there of getting worse? Risk cast them in terms of our global competitiveness. Well, there was a recession not too long after Risk appeared. It cost George H. W. Bush his second term. But about the time Bill it's-the-economy-stupid Clinton entered the White House things turned around (I imagine Clinton had less to do with that than the Dems like to claim). By 1994, the New York Times was comfortable running a long article under the headline "The American Economy, Back On Top." Japanese kids were still acing tests but their economy was in free fall, dragging the other "Asian Tiger" economies with it. How could that be, Mike?
In fact, 1994 was the early stage of the longest sustained economic expansion in the nation's history. How could that be, Mike?
Now if you actually look for evidence of schools falling farther behind--what a concept--you're pretty much stuck with the TIMSS administrations of 1995, 1999, and 2003. And you won't find any evidence there to support the contention. Looking at nations that participated all three times, the U. S. gained more than most.
I suppose you could blame the schools for the sub-prime mortgage debacle. The schools didn't teach them enough math. But from what I read, a lot of the people in trouble because of their soaring mortgage payments don't speak English well. And Barnum's maxim will always hold.
In the meantime, the people who inspired "a rising tide of mediocrity" are, on average, 42 years old and running a lot of the country whose economic fundamentals are said to be sound. They're probably even complaining about the ineptitude of recent high school graduates.