Saturday, February 17, 2007

U.S. Students - Are They All That Bad?

A few weeks ago Paul Fahri of the Washington Post wrote a column about how U.S. students compare with students from around the world. In this column he described as mythical 5 commonly articulated statements about the performance of American students, and offered supporting documentation for his suggestion that these statements are mythical. I won't reproduce his entire column here, but I will list the five statements that he says are not exactly true...
  1. U.S. students rate poorly compared with those in the rest of the world. In six major international tests in reading, math, science, and civics conducted from 1991-2001 American students' performances were above average when compared with 22 other industrialized nations.
  2. American students continue to fall even futher behind. No other nation educates as many poor students or as ethnically diverse a population as does the United States; as the percentage of historically low-achieving students tested has increased, so have American test scores.
  3. U.S. students won't be well prepared for the modern workforce. In the 50's and 60's the same thing was said in comparison to the Soviet Union; in the 70's and 80's it was Japan. Today it is China and India.
  4. Bad schooling has undermined America's competitiveness. A dynamic economy is part of a culture that rewards innovation and risk-taking and values unconventional problem-solving. When asked why Singapore's education system produced so many top-ranked test takers but so few top-ranked scientists, inventors, and business executives, the Education Minister said, "We both have meritocracies. America's is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy."
  5. How we rate in international tests matters, if only for national pride. If being No. 1 in education is our goal, shouldn't we also want to be No. 1 in the factors most closely linked to academic achievement - children's health care and reduction of childhood poverty?

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