Solving America's Education Crisis

Webster's defines meritocracy as a) a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement, or b) leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria. Neither definition has characterized the American public education system for a very long time.

Using various metrics, educational assessments have broadcast increasingly lopsided comparisons of American secondary students and their international counterparts over the years. The United States began to have a  flaccid showing in the mid-90s and since then it has been a slippery slope to educational mediocrity.


The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development put the United States at 15th out of 29 OECD nations in 2003 in reading; in 2006 a printing error at the National Center For Education Statistics invalidated that year's score. The UN's Human Development Index, which ranks nearly all independent states by life expectancy, GDP per capita, literacy and educational attainment, places the US between Kazakhstan and Lithuania with a steadily decreasing score.

Many culprits have been singled out for flagging student performance including the ubiquity of mobile technologies, truncated school years, unaffordable higher education and the wholesale dumbing down of public educational standards. If Obama's policy talking points are to be believed, one of the primary drivers of poor student performance has also been the standards to which we hold teachers.

The president called today for a merit-based system for teacher pay. Since teachers are the ultimate catalysts for inspiring learning, the thinking goes they may be better gatekeepers to success than externally imposed standards in No Child Left Behind, which Obama promises to hold over from the Bush years. It's unclear whether Obama will have the opportunity to test his meritocratic ideas in the classroom. The American Federation of Teachers and other unions have voiced their resistance to pegging teacher pay to teacher performance.

Aside from recklessly discounting the future by graduating a generation that cannot correctly conjugate an irregular verb, an educational system on par with those in post-Soviet states will not be a major selling point for continued American hegemony in the world.

College Board President Gaston Caperton said as much when he visited Big think and commented on flagging academic performance. If you have ideas to supplement Mr. Caperton's, or ideas to augment public education in general, let us know.

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

This 5-minute neck scan can spot dementia 10 years before it emerges

The results come from a 15-year study that used ultrasound scans to track blood vessels in middle-aged adults starting in 2002.

Mikhail Kalinin via Wikipedia
Mind & Brain
  • The study measured the stiffness of blood vessels in middle-aged patients over time.
  • Stiff blood vessels can lead to the destruction of delicate blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive decline.
  • The scans could someday become a widely used tool to identify people at high risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's.
Keep reading Show less

How 'dark horses' flip the script of success and happiness

What defines a dark horse? The all-important decision to pursue fulfillment and excellence.

Big Think Books

When we first set the Dark Horse Project in motion, fulfillment was the last thing on our minds. We were hoping to uncover specific and possibly idiosyncratic study methods, learning techniques, and rehearsal regimes that dark horses used to attain excellence. Our training made us resistant to ambiguous variables that were difficult to quantify, and personal fulfillment seemed downright foggy. But our training also taught us never to ignore the evidence, no matter how much it violated our expectations.

Keep reading Show less