Rarely do politicians claim that free dental checkups in public schools will increase test scores.

But that is one example of the creative solutions to the problems of public schools that education and public policy critic Richard Rothstein spoke about last Friday at the Yale Center in Child Development and Social Policy Luncheon Series. Rothstein, who was a columnist for The New York Times, said in a talk titled “Bringing Economic, Social and Educational Policy into Balance” that too often people expect schools to fix economic problems in the country.

In fact, sending every kid through college preparatory high school programs did not increase their access to more jobs, Rothstein said.

“Entry level wages of college educated graduates has fallen in the past 30 years.”

Rothstein criticized politicians, using both Republican and Democratic examples, for creating the impression that future jobs require more specialized skills than do current jobs. He said there was a large distinction between a technology-oriented workplace and a skills-oriented workplace. For example, today’s cashier requires fewer skills than the cashier he replaced who had to calculate sales tax.

Rothstein said 70 percent of available jobs require only a high school degree. The reason for the tough competition to get into Ivy League schools is that there are more college graduates than jobs requiring a college degree, he said. In fact, people who entered the work force in 1995 had only a quarter of a year more education than workers who entered in 1955.

Rothstein gave numerous examples describing how education statistics needed to be reexamined. He said his favorite was a list compiled by the Heritage Foundation — a conservative think tank — of the 20 public schools that had the highest achievement for disadvantaged children. The foundation cited a school in Cambridge, Mass., as one of the top public schools.

It turns out that the students were all children of Harvard graduate students. Since the foundation’s definition of “disadvantaged school” is solely a function of the number of students receiving federal lunch aid — and the graduate students’ low stipends made their children eligible for such aid — this school’s disadvantage ranking was perhaps abnormally high. This, he said, was just one of the ways statistics were being misused by policy experts.

Some of the audience members said they did not agree with Rothstein’s opinions.

“[Rothstein] focused more on outside influences as if the problems with fairly distributed resources in schools would disappear,” said Nneka Onyezia ’03.

Others seemed more impressed with Rothstein’s presentation.

“I found it really refreshing that he mentioned the more non-obvious aspects that influence student achievement,” Rodnev Lapommeray ’03 said.

As for the free dental checkup, using a U.S. Surgeon General’s report, Rothstein calculated that on any given day, about 17 percent of lower income children suffer from a toothache. Rothstein said that if politicians cared most about standardized test scores, it would be a lot cheaper to help the kids take the tests sans toothache than to put teachers through an entire professional development course.