By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
In spite of massive public education reform programs in the past decade, U.S. students are still only achieving “average” scores in reading and science compared to the rest of the world, and below average scores in math.
According to The Washington Post, a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development surveyed 15 year-olds from around the globe and found that students from South Korea, Finland, Singapore and the Chinese city of Shanghai handily out-performed American students in these critical subject areas.
On a 1,000 point scale, the U.S. scored 500 in reading and 502 in science. Its math score of 487 fell below the average of 496.
“For me, it’s a massive wake-up call,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan to the Post. “Have we ever been satisfied as Americans being average in anything? Is that our aspiration? Our goal should be absolutely to lead the world in education.”
Susan Fuhrman, president of Teachers College at Columbia University, told the Post that several of the Pacific Rim nations that excelled in the testing have strong academic standards and a culture of high expectations, with particular emphasis on math and science. She added that the teaching profession is often more prestigious in such countries.
“We are not drawing from the top group of college graduates for teaching” in the United States, Fuhrman said, “and some other countries are.”
Among the other key findings of the study:
– Girls outperform boys in reading in every participating country.
– Economic prosperity doesn’t necessarily translate into better educational systems. For instance, countries with similar levels of economic prosperity were found to yield widely varying academic results. Korea, the strongest performer among the group’s member nations, has a lower gross domestic product per capita than the organization’s average, as does Shanghai where students also scored above average.
– U.S. math results were up only slightly since the last testing done in 2003, but science grades had improved more significantly.
Testing was conducted in the United States from September to November 2009, and included 5,233 students from 165 public and private schools who were randomly selected.
U.S. officials are disappointed in the results and say they indicate that the nation is slipping further behind the competition despite billions spent on reform programs in recent years.
While addressing the nation’s education problems in North Carolina on Monday, President Obama said the U.S. is facing another “Sputnik moment,” meaning a need for innovations similar to those that put a man on the moon after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into orbit in 1957.
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