A report this week that American students are lagging behind their top international peers in math, reading and science should give pause to those who argue that the nation’s school reform efforts are going too far and too fast. In fact, they suggest just the opposite: The, at best, middling scores of American 15-year-olds not only challenge the notion of American “exceptionalism,” they also threaten over time to erode the educational foundations of the world’s largest economy and its global political and military influence.
The Program for International Student Assessment, which measures academic achievement in 65 of the world’s wealthiest countries, found that students in the U.S. were outpaced by their peers elsewhere in all three subjects tested. Students in 29 countries or educational systems scored higher in math, while those in 22 countries did better in science, and 19 countries did better in reading. The PISA exam put students from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and South Korea at the top of its rankings, while several countries comparable to the U.S., including Ireland and Poland, pulled ahead for the first time.
Meanwhile, American students did only about as well on the test as they did the last time it was administered, in 2009. Optimists might take that to mean that the U.S. is at least holding its own in the global educational competition, but the reality is that America is standing still while other countries forge ahead. And in a rapidly evolving global marketplace, standing still year after year is the same as falling behind.
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