Sunday, September 11, 2011

Scorecard of American Students Say We Can't Compete

“We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time,” President Obama said in his State of the Union address this year. “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and outbuild the rest of the world.” Yet despite the economic crisis facing the country, the U.S. educational system remains frozen in place, unable to adapt to contemporary global realities.

32 percent of U.S. public and private-school students in the class of 2011 are deemed proficient in mathematics, placing the United States 32nd among the 65 nations that participated in the latest international tests administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States ranks between Portugal and Italy and far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands, to say nothing of the city of Shanghai, with its 75 percent proficiency rate.

When you compare the performance of students in each state with that of students in other countries, the results are scary. Even in Massachusetts, with its renowned collection of public and private schools, students reach only the level attained by students in the entire nations of Canada, Japan, and Switzerland. Massachusetts, the only U.S. state with a majority of students (51 percent) above the proficiency mark, trails well behind students in South Korea and Finland, as well as those in top-performing Shanghai.

The percentage proficient in the state of New York (30 percent) is equivalent to that achieved by students in debt-ridden Portugal and Spain. California, the home of highly skilled Silicon Valley, has a math proficiency rate of 24 percent, the same as bankrupt Greece and just a notch above struggling Russia. By the time we get down to New Mexico and Mississippi, we are making comparisons with Serbia and Bulgaria.

President Obama, to his credit, has highlighted the problem repeatedly. But too many state education officials have done their best to obfuscate the low performance of their students. Under the educational accountability rules set down by the federal law No Child Left Behind, each state may set its own proficiency standard, and most have set their standards well below the world-class level. As a result, most state proficiency reports grossly inflate the percentage of students who are proficient, if we account for the fact that our students need to compete not just with others from the same state but also with those across the globe.

In the words of Charles Vest, the former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “The enemy I fear most is complacency. We are about to be hit by the full force of global competition. If we continue to ignore the obvious task at hand…our children and grandchildren will pay the price.”
Now is the time to break the ice.

On August 28, Newsweek Magazine published "Why American Students Can't Compete", an article with detailed information.  You can find the information in the Daily Beast also. It's worth the time to take a look.

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