The US has never ranked at the top of international education tests, Gregory Ferenstein notes, yet has been the dominant economic and innovative force in the world the entire time:
The reason for the apparent disconnect is because schools don’t prepare students for the real world, so broad educational attainment will have a weak correlation with economic power. Research has consistently shown that on nearly every measure of education (instructional hours, class-size, enrollment, college preparation), what students learn in school does not translate into later life success. The United States has an abundance of the factors that likely do matter: access to the best immigrants, economic opportunity, and the best research facilities.
In a massive review of research, the Department of Education’s research arm, the Institute for Education Sciences, could not find any evidence that college preparation actually prepared students for college. The only effective tools were (sadly) non-classroom-based strategies, such as teaching students how to fill out financial aid forms.
Students’ time in college isn’t much better. Researchers Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa concluded in Academically Adrift that most students float through college without learning much in the way of critical thinking.
“Indeed, the students in our study who reported studying alone five or fewer hours per week nevertheless had an average cumulative GPA of 3.16,” they write, “given such a widespread lack of academic rigor, about a third of students failed to demonstrate significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing ability (as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment) during their four years of college.”
These facts should not come as a shock. When I taught college, it was commonly known among the professors that incoming high schoolers were not prepared with the requisite critical-thinking skills for our classes. Now as a writer in the private sector, I don’t expect incoming employees to have been prepared in their college classes. Determination, raw intelligence, and creativity are the measures of a successful college student and employee — none of those factors are learned in school.