Human capital, the cornerstone of America’s rise from infant nation to economic superpower, is the quantification of the economic value of a person’s accumulative skillset – education, skills, personal attributes, habits, and anything that can enable them to perform labor. Despite this generation being the most educated in the country’s history, the yield on their human capital appears to be diminishing, and this is affecting U.S. exceptionalism on the world stage, warns a new study.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) recently published the findings of a report titled “Measuring human capital: A systematic analysis of 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016.” The study ranked nations’ human capital yield results over a 26-year period, and the conclusions were surprising: The U.S. saw its placement drop from sixth in 1990 to 26th in 2016, China surged from 69th to 44th, and South Korea advanced from 18th to sixth. Finland topped the list, while countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America saw the biggest improvements.
Concluding that governments need to invest more in healthcare and education, authors note that the study can be utilized to encourage advocates, economists, and policymakers to “use the findings as evidence to argue for greater attention to – and resources for – improving their nations’ human capital.”
While a state like Ethiopia needs to spend more on education and healthcare to improve human capital, the U.S. is already at or near the top of most lists that rank countries’ spending on these fields.
Perhaps, at least in the case of America, it is the quality of basic education that is deteriorating.
Looking at the Numbers
The federal government’s annual budget for elementary and secondary education is $634 billion, and state governments spend, on average, $600 billion for K-12 education. This is equal to about $13,000 per student, or $4,000 more than the average Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member spends.
And, facing pressure from teachers’ unions, governments, led by both Republicans and Democrats, have pledged to increase their outlays for education.
Unfortunately, more spending has not led to better results. The Pew Research Center (PWC) ranked the U.S. just above the OECD average in science and reading, as well as just below the average in mathematics. In recent years, a myriad of reports has sounded the alarm on the poor state of the nation’s education.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), for instance, reported that two-thirds of fourth-grade students cannot read at a proficient level, and one-third fail to show basic literacy skills. America’s scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) have remained flat between 2000 and 2014. Pearson, a global learning company, listed the U.S. 14th in cognitive abilities. In 2013, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “The Learning Curve” study placed the U.S. at 17th in overall educational performance.
That said, not to be too much of a Cassandra, there have been some positive developments.
Graduation rates are up, attendance is increasing, and results from the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Assessment (TIMSS) test show Americans scored their highest marks since the exam was first introduced in 1995.
Is it good enough? You be the judge.
State of Education
Let’s face it: The state of elementary and secondary education is deplorable.
What used to be hubs of learning have metastasized into government indoctrination centers for progressives to experiment and mold young minds with their cause du jour, from writing homosexual love letters to drag queen story time to protesting a political issue. No wonder students – residing in both inner cities and rural areas – went from excelling at the “three Rs” decades ago to falling behind in today’s schools.
As an example of the participation trophy era, a U.S. teacher’s termination made national headlines because she was fired after refusing to give her students passing marks for assignments they failed to submit. Ironically, many teachers retain their jobs or find other classroom gigs despite inappropriate relationships with students.
Should teachers bear the blame? It would be easy enough – and fun too – but many teachers have their hands tied. It is the bureaucrats, the union leaders, and the policymakers who are the assailants in the crime of threatening students’ fledgling human capital. No Child Left Behind, discovery math, political correctness, and participation trophies are the culprits for a child’s struggles, not someone who has lost his or her passion to teach – at least they’re not underpaid.
Like every other industry, education has become politicized, and when the toxicity of politics infiltrates an area as important as education, you’re doomed to failure.
America’s higher education, which will soon no longer be the envy of the world, is beginning to offer students anything but an education. College campuses are hostile to free speech, students are signing up for worthless majors like gender studies, and professors are bringing their leftist politics to lecture halls. Because there is still a free market in this sector, families are using their dollars to highlight their frustrations.
Thankfully, communities and parents are getting fed up. In recent years, more households have adopted home schooling, the Khan Academy has served as an important tool in the classroom and at home, and moms and dads are automatically enrolling their children into tutoring businesses at the start of the school year.
Is Human Capital Under Threat?
The U.S. economy is roaring, the unemployment rate is at a historic low, and wage growth is at a record high. But long-term economic expansion is under threat by high-paying jobs left unfilled and a shortage in skills, something that experts warn has reached a “critical point.” (There’s even a soft skills gap, which may not be surprising because today’s talent pool is buried in their smartphones and frightened to verbally communicate with other people face-to-face.)
When the IMHE highlights diminishing human capital in the U.S., it isn’t because politicians aren’t spending enough – what politician doesn’t like to spend taxpayer dollars? The U.S. spends more on education than most countries in the world.
So, what’s the real problem? Answer: quality.
Legendary economist Thomas Sowell wrote that “the purpose of education is to give the student the intellectual tools to analyze, whether verbally or numerically, and to reach conclusions based on logic and evidence.”
If you have recently stepped foot inside any classroom – primary, secondary, or university – you discover that this is not the case; independent thought is abandoned and groupthink is encouraged. Should you dare use one of the most powerful forces in the universe today – your mind – then you are shunned by your professors and peers. If you make the mistake of reaching a politically incorrect conclusion using logic and evidence, you will be cast out by the outrage mob. That’s not an education, that’s “a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
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