Getting Schooled

They were the best of schools, they were the worst of schools.

Once again an international testing body has evaluated 15-year olds around the world in math, science, and reading and once again the US has come out below average. If an aggressive foreign power did this to our schools, the saying goes, it would be considered an act of war.

But people need to stop hyperventilating about tests and ranking. The experts sound like a bunch of preppies obsessing about their SAT scores. It’s hard to draw conclusions from aggregate scores when US school system is so diverse. Hidden in plain sight, though, is some interesting data. Finland does very well on these tests—it’s been written about as an exemplar of educational excellence. But right next door, Sweden does horribly: the worst in Europe.

Both countries have similar cultures, similar climates, and have diversified, industrial economies. But Sweden’s workers are far more productive than Finland’s, and its students are far happier. Now maybe they’re just happy because have sports teams and they don’t have as much math homework. But the engineers at Eriksson and Nokia get all the math the need. Test scores don’t predict productivity.

Most US schools do pretty well at imparting the basics and getting kids to learn. Parents who want more hire tutors, send their kids to private school, or homeschool. Our children may not all be above average, but the kids are all right.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA

Chief Investment Officer

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