Call me crazy, but I suspect we could make a connection between the wealth gap and the achievement gap in those halcyon days to the "decline of education" Friedman is wringing his hands about here.
I think there are all sorts of reasons why both American education pales in comparison to the position of America as a global power and why America faces the economic difficulties that it does. But when Burell notes that:
Friedman's fixation on test score rankings divorced from poverty rankings needs fixing. But it's standard in education punditry today. We ignore poverty, and instead only focus on schools and teachers.
he seems to overlook the part where TF quotes the 'ifs':
If America had closed the international achievement gap between 1983 and 1998 and had raised its performance to the level of such nations as Finland and South Korea, United States G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion higher. If we had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher. If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been narrowed, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher.
The McKinsey Report suffers in its lack of definition, particularly with regard to any explanation of 'performance' that goes beyond comparative test scores. But, unlike some folks (perhaps even TF), I tend to read this not as prescriptive -- as in "let's us business-types show those durned teachers how if they just taught better, we'd all have more money"; but rather as damning -- as in "if" US education (and in the comparison with Finland and South Korea, the focus is directed here at math, science, and technology) were not lagging behind its global peers (and had not for the years 1983-98), "then" the result would have been a smarter and more competitive US populace and therefore (by Mc/TF standards) higher GDP.
This is basic economics stuff, it's just that the numbers crunchers don't always see the myriad social realities and the folks on the other side of the spectrum don't trust the reasoning.
Burell is absolutely on target in criticizing the report for its failure to recognize the impact of poverty on education in the US (even more importantly the distribution of poverty -- after all, on paper South Korea has got more poverty than the US [in terms of percentage of population / not raw numbers]). He also rightly gets under TF's skin for seeming to simplify exactly what the 'decline' of anything actually means. But I think in the end this report actually might offer a glimmer of hope in the ironic fact that it pars big economics with the international comparisons in education and in doing so, puts the educational comparisons in the limelight. It therefore could serve as catalyst for a more open and widespread discussion -- one much more open than the report itself could ever be.