David Brooks, writing recently in The New York Times, made the case that America’s rise to world leadership in the twentieth century was driven by a national commitment to education. Levels of education advanced hand-in-hand with America’s rise to power. “In 1890,” he writes, “the average adult had completed about 8 years of schooling. By 1910 it was 9.6 years and by 1960 it was nearly 14 years.” This steady investment in education, stretching over several generations, helped the United States to open up a “gigantic lead” over its European competitors. By 1950, more than 70 percent of American teens were enrolled in secondary schools while in Europe no country exceeded 30 percent.

Mr. Brooks is particularly worried by the fact that by 1970 the era of educational progress (measured by years of schooling) came to an end, allowing other countries to catch up and then to exceed our...


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