07/14/2008 11:59 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Washington Post Pimps an Ad

The Washington Post pimping for an ad. Can you believe it? The pimpiness appeared Sunday, July 13. Who put them up to that? The ad in question is from an organization that has become the most irresponsible source of disinformation about public schools since Bill Bennett (in fact, it recently sponsored a C-SPAN program on the "school crisis" featuring Bennett). It is Strong American Schools and its Web site is Its driving force is former Colorado governor Roy Romer who, at 80, appears to be losing it. SAS describes itself as non-partisan. If SAS is non-partisan, so is the communist party.

According to the Post article, "A 30-second television spot shows a blond-haired boy raising the flags of dozens of countries including Finland and South Korea and Japan, onto one flagpole as ominous orchestral musing plays in the background. In a voiceover, actress Jamie Lee Curtis says: 'This boy's future isn't looking so good. The schools in everyone of these countries are outperforming ours.'"

Really? Is that why 105,000 South Korean kids are studying in American K-12 schools? Not according to their parents. Their parents hate the rote learning that the South Korean schools force on students. They hate the life-determining college entrance exam. They want their kids to learn how to think ad they believe American schools teach that much better. That's the same reason that a group of Singaporean educators toured schools in the suburbs of Washington recently. Their most common comment was that the kids here seemed so much more engaged than they were back home.

According to spokesperson, Marc Lampkin, the ads are timed with the Beijing Olympics and are trying to make these international test comparisons seem like a Cognitive Olympics. The only test comparisons mentioned are those from the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA), sponsored by OECD. OECD is a neo-liberal outfit headquartered in Paris but getting 25% of its budget from the U. S. It pushes math and science but would never, ever, push liberal arts, solidarity with the poor or sustainable development.

Test scores don't count in the long run. Much research in the 1970's and 1980's showed this, but the research got ignored when "high-stakes" tests became the fad du jour. Still, about two years ago, journalist Fareed Zakariya observed that kids in Singapore, who typically finish first or second in international test comparisons, fare much worse than American students when you look 10, 20 years down the road. He asked the Singapore Minister of Education why. The Minister pointed to things the tests don't measure--creativity, ambition and, especially, a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. He said American schools cultivate those qualities much better than his own.

That might be why a new RAND Organization study, U. S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology, finds that, as stated in the Financial Times, "The US remains the dominant global player in science and technology in spite of popular perceptions that it risks losing its crown." The U. S. accounts for 40% of global spending on scientific R&D and 38% of all patented inventions among industrialized nations. Three fourths of the world's leading universities are in the U. S.

The RAND report says that "U. S. students performed relatively well in reading literacy...." While the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study contains some 3rd world nations (45 countries, to be exact), "limiting the comparisons to OECD studies still indicates that U. S. students performed relatively well" (pp. 75-76)

The U. S. didn't rank high on the Program of International Student Assessment, PISA. On June 18, I posted a first-take on a book from the University of Vienna that critically analyzes PISA. Having now read the whole book, which contains chapters from researchers all over Europe, I'll be back soon to reveal what it says about PISA. PISA does not fare well. Making PISA the flagship of a campaign against American schools is like making the Titanic the flagship of your fleet. It's going down.