Falling behind: U.S. students compare poorly to their peers

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Once more, the performance of U.S. students in math, science and reading compared to their peers in 64 countries appears mediocre. That’s according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The test was taken by 6,000 U.S. 15-year-olds, chosen randomly, from 161 schools that were also chosen at random. The global sample was 510,000 students.

The countries with the top student scores were China, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Japan. Germany, Poland, Finland and Canada also did well. As for the United States, 28 countries scored higher in math, 22 did better in science and 19 were better in reading.

What might be worse, looking to future competitiveness, is that U.S. students’ 2012 rankings were down from the last PISA of 2009.

“We have to see this as a wake-up call,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “... We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

Spending per student does not appear to be a factor. The United States was fifth in that category, after Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland. The United States was close in the rankings to Slovakia, but Slovakia spends only 46 percent as much per student.

Poverty may be a key element, though. “Socio-economic disadvantage has a notable input on student performance in the United States,” the report said. Yet Congress is debating how much to cut from the federal food stamp program.

This report undercuts the pretensions of Americans who imagine that the United States is somehow exceptional. The lack of U.S. improvement from 2009 to 2012, accompanied by the rising performance by Asian competitors, indicates that American education — and how the country cares for its youth — needs a shake-up if the United States is to keep from falling behind much of the world.

There is no acceptable reason for America’s unimpressive showing.


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