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If Education Is Expensive, Try Ignorance

Posted by Larry Doyle on December 16, 2010 7:01 AM |

I love our country. With four children I certainly hope for better days ahead. That said, while the virtue of hope is critically important to the growth and fiber of any institution, including a nation, hope alone will not bring us to the promised land. What is needed?

A strong educated pool of labor. How is the United States doing on this front? Poor? Pathetic? Abysmal? All of the above? That would be ‘all of the above.’ Our education “chickens are coming home to roost,” as a report released last week highlights. ABC News reported, China Debuts At Top of International Education Rankings,

report out today, “Highlights From PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context,” shows the U.S. now ranks 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading out of the 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

While OECD countries such as Finland, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and New Zealand continue to outpace the U.S. in reading, science and math, all eyes are on China. In its first year to be included in the study as a non-OECD education system, Shanghai ranked first in all three categories. Hong Kong came in second in reading and science and third in math.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the findings, “to be brutally honest, show that a host of developed nations are out-educating us.”

“The findings, I have to admit, show that the United States needs to urgently accelerate student learning to try to remain competitive in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” Duncan said at a press conference in Washington. “Americans need to wake up to this educational reality, instead of napping at the wheel while emerging competitors prepare their students for economic leadership.”

The U.S. did show improvement in science and math from 2006 to 2009, but Duncan said, “I don’t think that’s much for us to celebrate. Being average in science is a mantle of mediocrity.”

While the factors impacting our pathetic educational performance are many and varied, the simple fact is our nation is failing when it comes to educating our future generation. What are the impacts of that? How much time do you have?

As I have often said, ‘if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’ I do not mean to be overly harsh but merely brutally honest in stating that the the social costs of ignorance are crippling our nation.

Larry Doyle

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I have no affiliation or business interest with any entity referenced in this commentary. The opinions expressed here are my own and not those of Greenwich Investment Management. As the President of Greenwich Investment Management, an SEC regulated privately held registered investment adviser, I am merely a proponent of real transparency within our markets so that investor confidence and investor protection can be achieved.

  • BMB

    Education may be expensive, but all the money in the world won’t solve systemic issues. I know of teachers that are pressured to pass students that haven’t earned passing grades.

    As you said Larry, the reasons are many and varied.

  • John Kimbrel


    Anyone with common sense at all realizes that ignorance is much more expensive than educating our young people to live in their adult world. Their adult world is and will be much different than the one we grew up in.

    Having said that, there are people and organizations that have their hook(s) into the educational process of our children that make it is impossible to reform any one part or all of it. Having been involved in education for over forty-seven years as a teacher, coach, building principal, district office administrator, college teacher, and college administrator, it is evident to me that we need to “completely” dismantle the K-12 and college system, and start over from scratch. Our system is flawed with everything from horrible teacher and administration preparation at the college level to the tail completely waging the dog at k-12 level. We are still doing things much the same as we did them fifty years ago and pretending this is educating our children on a level that will help us compete in a global society.

    Are doctors, dentists,lawyers and other professionals educated the same way they were in the 1950’s? – would anyone in their right mind want a surgeon with 1950’s training working on them? Let’s hope we don’t have people answering yes to these questions.


  • John

    I think if you compare how the US ranks in the world on topics such as, teen pregnancy, drug use, dropout rates, amount of time spent on smartphones or social networks and playing video games, I think a clear picture of where we are failing becomes obvious. If your kids are morons, the parents deserve the blame first, then a lousy educational system stuffed with bureaucrats, and then the teachers who can’t be fired but certainly should be. Get the parents involved with their kids, the schools and their teachers and we will find ourselves in the top 3 once again! If more parents didn’t treat schools as day care centers and permitted the teachers to enforce the rules and punish (within reason) those kids who have no respect for them or the rules, things won’t get better by throwing more money at the problem. Sadly, that’s the American way or atleast has been, since WW II. Just a thought.

  • Jeb

    We are talking about education like it’s something you subject children to. Learning should not be bantered about as if it’s some kind of modern torture. Learning is fun, exciting, and it takes participation.

    When American children are excited to go to school because they know they are getting ready to do something interesting, then the educational system will fix itself. When children expect school to be a place where they will have the opportunity to have the secrets of the world revealed to them, then we won’t have to fight to get them to show up.

    The problem lies with parents, teachers, the media and everywhere else boring people allow their brain housing facility get filled with cottage cheese.

  • coe

    Much like other issues in this country – e.g. immigration, health care, social security, employment – education has been politicized and is subject to conflicting views, special interests, and reform gridlock…each of us knows this full well – but with education, as has been emphasized, the stakes are as high or even higher for our children’s and our country’s future relevance and standard of living. Having served as a Budget Officer for several years for a large, and somewhat economically blessed public school system, I saw first-hand how easily a system could start on a path to self-destruction – if our children are falling way behind in the new global society in terms of reading, science and math – just what are they succeeding in at school? – lunch? cyber-bullying? Much like the roots of the financial crisis, many participants can raise their hands as agents of this decline – parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, unions…what really worries me, LD, is that with all of these important issues, it seems that there is no civil discussion/debate nor collaborative effort to fix things – just polarized positions, personal agendas, and a moonwalk from personal ownership of the issue that is partially caused by sensory overload and leads to neglect, frustration, apathy or resignation. Where are the visionaries and true leaders that can galvanize a disparate group of constituencies into action for the common good? In the same way that better managed companies are always trying to identify up and coming talent – both insiders and outsiders – and nurture that talent pool by asking these individuals to take on more challenges and leadership, I think we, as a country should be thinking outside the box, and do the same thing with the education problem – and it’s not at all about throwing money at it – many a philanthropist/ foundation have gone that route – some small victories , but not really addressing the fundamentals. And, in my opinion, the answers to where these people can be found is not in the closed loop of the education professionals – they can not, and will not crack the code on their own! I will volunteer, as would many others like me, and you have the perspective, heart, intelligence and leadership skills to have a seat at the table as well, LD! Take a sabbatical from the euro, the bank crisis, and what is the ten year note yielding – somehow we will muddle through the market rhythms – I say you form a team, get some air time – and let’s get to work on the education issues!

  • fred

    Begin with the end in mind.

    What is it we want our educational system to provide our children?

    Let’s hold “big bucks” leadership accountible. Since we have become a nation of “pass the buckers”, don’t be surprised when leadership ultimately puts responsibility back onto the back of society and parents.

    Society is too busy turning our children into consumers rather than producers and parents are too busy trying to keep up with the Jones’ or self actualizing to put in the time necessary to fulfill the truly immense time obligations necessary for effective educational oversite.

    Before you know it, the kids are off to college majoring in minors and coming out with degree’s ensuring mediocrity. More expensive school’s just produce more big buckers with new ideas for change to justify being paid the big bucks.

    WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET IT! It’s about caring, it’s about hard work, it’s about sacrifice. It’s about one generation forgoing life’s pleasures for the betterment of the next.

    As much as I’m an idealist, I’m a realist. We as a country talk a good game but we’re even better at not taking responsibilty, placing blame elsewhere and putting off today’s hard choices until a tommorrow that never comes.

    Let’s face it, we’re still enjoying the sacrifices made by prior generations on a tab thats past due.

  • TeakWoodKite

    Hey LD, first I came by to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and to thank you for all the exellent work you do. It is both a pleasure and an honor to learn from your insights. Cheers.

    reading the link below, what impact will it have that the Fed is the largest holder of US debt. There seems to be a balanace of “monetery power” shift by the Fed but I am not clear of the long term implications of it. Thanks again.
    PS, I am amazed by the post of the 9th grader. WOW.

    The biggest owner of that debt is now the Federal Reserve itself, through QE programs.

    Read more:

  • LD


    Thanks for the kind words. Hope you are doing well also.

    The issue with the Fed being the largest holder of our debt is the question as to whether they will maintain the flexibility to control monetary policy in an appropriate fashion. Will they quickly raise interest rates–assuming that is the right move–if it were to cost them a bundle in lost value within their own portfolio?

    This reality is an unintended consequence but it is very meaningful. The fact is without the Fed’s quantitative easing programs our interest rate levels would likely be a full 100 basis points (1%) higher than where they are right now. Savers would benefit and risk would be more appropriately priced.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    • TeakWoodKite

      Thanks LD.

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