« Romanian Rule | Main | New Leadership for National Literacy Institute »

Focus on Success Here, Not Abroad


Here's another rebuttal of the notion that U.S. schools and students are being outperformed by other nations. Veteran Washington Post education reporter and columnist Jay Mathews in an Op/Ed piece in the Boston Globe takes issue with the claims that American students have fallen far behind their counterparts in India and China and elsewhere.

"The widespread feeling that our schools are losing out to the rest of the world, that we are not producing enough scientists and engineers, is a misunderstanding fueled by misleading statistics," he writes. "Reports regularly conclude that the United States is falling behind other countries—in the number of engineers it produces, in the performance of its students in reading or in mathematics. But closer examinations of these reports are showing that they do not always compare comparable students, skewing the results."

But the picture he paints of American schools is not glowing. Too many of the nation's urban and rural schools are "simply bad."

"Not only are we denying the children who attend them the equal education that is their right, but we are squandering almost a third of our intellectual capital," Mathews writes. "We are beating the world economically, but with one hand tied behind our back."

There are a couple of initiatives under way in the United States to set standards that align with international benchmarks, meaning the expectations that other countries hold for their students at various grade levels. But while proponents say this strategy will bring world-class schooling to America, critics argue that such expectations will leave more students in the dust.

Mathews (who is a board member for Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week) suggests focusing not on what other countries are doing, but on success stories among urban schools in U.S. cities for examples of the real potential for raising student achievement in the most unlikely places.


The article referred to is not much of a rebuttal! Take two examples - the author disputes the number of engineers graduating in China. OK, so China graduated 'about' 300,000 engineers to the US' 70,000 .... wah, strong rebuttal there!
- if you compare _AP_ calculus students to the normal students in other countries, then they do OK; it's just if you compare all US high-school maths students with all high school maths in other countries, that the US looks weak. Well, I'm so reassured!

Sad, very, very sad...

The stats for educational attainment and skill achievement are held beyond the shores of the United States. Urban school districts need to be under local control with strong parental input in the directions the students are headed. Also teachers unions should be barred from having influence on elected officials to the point where parents are stripped of control over either. US public schools has been a failure for African-American and other minority ethnic groups to a certain extent all my life time I have studied them. Now miraciously I am beginning to see solutions long ago abandonned begining to return.

Expanding our field of knowledge in education through the examination of what is working in other countries is a good thing. So is examination of what is working in urban schools in this country. This is not an either/or situation. Imagine if medicine limited its acceptance of research to that done in this country.

That said, there are considerations of context, although not those typically given. Despite charges that scores from other countries eliminate the bottom rungs, this is far less true than it was decades ago and there are examples of countries that have done far better than we have in terms of inclusion and reaching those lowest rung students. There are countries who do far better in responding to diversity and educating students who immigrate from countries speaking another language.

I don't know that India and China are the best comparison countries in education--long-term comparative data is not yet established (PISA and TIMSS). But each has it's place in challenging us. India, despite massive poverty and wide educational disparity, has developed a technological nich to receive outsourced work from the United States. China is simply so large that even with wide disparities in education it is well poised to outproduce the US in production of, well about any kind of educated manpower--including engineers.

But our nearest and most similar neighbor Canade smokes us in both high scores and the equitable distribution of those scores. Their percentage of adults with post-secondary education is high and growing.

The US has been vegetating on our rep for too long. It's not that we do badly, but that we have not maintained the R&D to continually improve. The rest of the world is catching up--and passing us.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments