Arnold Kling  

More on U.S. Education

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Goldin-Katz Filters into the M... Inconvenient Arithmetic and En...

Two links from Mark Thoma. First, Clive Crook.


For decades the educational quality of the US labour force surged. In 1940, less than 5 per cent of the population aged 25-64 had at least a four-year college education. By 2000, the proportion had increased to nearly 30 per cent. Successive generations of workers improved on the educational attainments of their predecessors. Retiring workers were replaced by better-educated youngsters. This remorseless accumulation of human capital helped fuel the country's postwar growth. According to at least one authoritative study, it was the principal driver.

Which authoritative study is that? Is it Goldin-Katz again? They only attribute 14 percent of the productivity increase to more education, and even that amount depends on assuming that all of the wage premium for more education reflects actual schooling rather than ability. But even if you assume the full 14 percent, it is not the "principal driver," although you could be forgiven for taking that away as from their rhetoric, as opposed to their numbers.

Next, Elizabeth Cascio, Damon Clark, and Nora Gordon,


On average, native-born U.S. teenagers performed worse on the IALS test than teenagers in any other country: Only 4.7% achieved at least level-four proficiency. In contrast, in the highest ranking country, Sweden, more than 35% of students achieved at least level-four proficiency. Across all nations other than the United States, on average 16% of 16- and 17-year-olds were highly skilled...While substantial learning takes place after high school in nearly all countries, these gains are particularly large in the United States. In fact, except for Norway, the age profile of skill is steeper in the United States than in any other country in the sample.

I can't believe that the authors don't suggest that U.S. students learn faster out of high school because they have so much more ground to make up. It seems to me like that's the obvious explanation.



COMMENTS (4 to date)

What's up with Switzerland? A smaller percentage of highly literate adults than teens?

frankcross writes:

That's a pretty good partial explanation but wouldn't explain how the US "catchup" surpasses most of the nations in the sample.

Boonton writes:

It's almost unquestionable that the US educational system is bad or broke but is it? If the US educational system was really horrible shouldn't it show up in the economimc stats? Why are returns on education negative? Why is educational outside of the educational system (from the private vocational schools that advertise on late night TV to the 'self-improvement' classes marketed to adults) seems to have modest or little return? You'd think someone would be making a killing in the private sector teaching people what they supposedly missed in high school and making them better paid!

Perhaps the US system, like many others, has on average done a great job teaching what can be taught in formal education. Beyond that, perhaps, additional human capital in the form of education yields little. After maxing out the marginal gain of education, the strongest return on investment comes from on the job experience.

Here the US excels because it has a flexible labor market that gets young people into the job market rather quickly and doesn't have the inflexibility that inhibits employers from hiring young people.

Whenever I make this contrarian argument, I have to make a note that I'm talking about the system on average. Yes I know there's individual schools and individual cities with horrible systems.

parviziyi writes:

Quote:While substantial learning takes place after high school in nearly all countries, these gains are particularly large in the United States. In fact, except for Norway, the age profile of IALS skill is steeper in the United States than in any other country in the sample.

The IALS test was done 10 or 12 years ago. At the time the percentage of older adults with a college degree was much higher in the US than in Europe; and also higher, to a lesser extent, w.r.t the secondary school graduation rate. The Western Europeans are roughly speaking equal to the Americans in schooling attainment when you look at statistics for young adults, but are significantly behind the Americans among older adults. The very oldest in Europe performed very poorly on the IALS test, whereas the old in the US were the top of the class in their age group.

Over the last 30 years, formal schooling attainment has been rapidly increasing among Europeans (and not among Americans). This reduces the "steepness of the age profile of IALS skill" for the Europeans. Arnold Kling suggests that "U.S. students learn faster out of high school because they have so much more ground to make up." But as far as I know, there's no evidence from the IALS that US students learn faster out of high school, and I believe Arnold Kling is reading too much into the IALS data.

The IALS test was a good test. It ought to be repeated again today.

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