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Why Do American Students Fail to Measure Up to International Frontrunners?

Kathryn Thompson

You’ve doubtless heard the statistics by now, statistics that show American students falling behind academically when compared with their counterparts in other industrialized nations.  As a nation, we are failing to remain competitive in education, which basically means we are failing to remain competitive.  Period.

A study released last week by The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) takes a detailed look at high performing nations around the world and what they’re doing to provide a quality education for their children.  The short version – they’re doing everything we’re not and they’re not doing anything we are.  Almost.

The one area where the report finds that the United States is on the right track in improving schools is the development of Common Core Standards, a clearly defined set of learning targets in math and English.  However the report recommends that we do more, developing a set of standards in each area of core curriculum.

The study also calls for fewer standardized tests and for using the tests in a different way.  Top performing countries never use standardized tests for grade-by-grade accountability but rather tests are done every couple of years as a gateway to determine if students are ready to move on.  The tests are used in professional development but not as a direct measure of teacher effectiveness.

Other recommendations from NCEE include more rigorous teacher training and preparation, changes in how we manage districts and budgets, and making sure that all elements of the education system are coherent and aligned.  That last one makes me laugh a little because when you read about it in the NCEE press release, it sounds like we basically need to burn the entire system to the ground and rebuild it from scratch.  I don’t think that’s a bad idea actually. has a great article about the report, its implications and the reactions it’s getting from the major players in American education.

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler and a deceased betta fish.  She can also be found at The Parenting Post, and occasionally the gym.