A new international report  demolishes several deeply held myths about our educational system. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, which compares the educational systems of over 30 developed nations, provides data that, when it comes to education, proves we’re so far from being number one, that the entire idea of American exceptionalism should be called into question. Rather than thumping our chests, we should be going to school on how other developed nations, especially those in Europe, invest in education. However, we have little chance of learning until we break through the mythology that blinds us to our decline.
Myth #1: Our educational system provides more upward mobility than any other in the world.
It’s practically a sacred oath to proclaim that we lead the world in upward mobility. America, we are told ad nauseum, is the best place on Earth for a poor person to improve his or her station in life. You might struggle for one generation or so, but your kids can make it up the ladder faster here than any place else. And the reason, of course, is because we provide the best educational opportunities for all young people, rich and poor.
Not true, says the OECD report. “The odds that a young person in the U.S. will be in higher education if his or her parents do not have an upper secondary education are just 29 percent — one of the lowest levels among OECD countries.”
Just how low is our ranking? Of the 28 countries listed, we’re third from the bottom.
Myth #2: Our teachers (protected by their greedy unions) work less and get paid more.
It’s open season on public employees, especially teachers and their unions. They get paid too much. Their benefits are too high. They get tenure while the rest of us fear layoffs. And they’re a bunch of lazy louts that get the entire summer off! If there’s educational decline, then teachers must be the cause. Right?
Wrong! says the OECD report, especially when it comes to hours worked: “Teachers in the U.S. spend between 1050 and 1100 hours a year teaching – much more than in almost every country.” Of the 38 countries surveyed only two countries had teachers who worked more hours – Argentina and Chile. And when it comes to the hours worked per years by our primary school teachers, we’re number one!
But surely, aren’t these unionized teachers making too much money? Not according to the OECD report: “Despite high overall levels of spending on education, teacher salaries in the U.S. compare poorly. While in most OECD countries teacher salaries tend be lower, on average, than the salaries earned by other workers with higher education, in the U.S. the difference is large, especially for teachers with minimum qualifications.”