The average science score of U.S. 15-year-olds lagged that of students in 16 of 30 [industrialized] countries....U.S. students were further behind in math, trailing counterparts in 23 countries.Now, God knows I'm in favor of our children being able to compete with the children of the world. And I've read just enough about educational problems in the U.S. to be convinced that we really ought to be doing a better job of it. Still, we've been hearing these tales of international woe for an awful long time. Here's A Nation At Risk, the famous 1983 report on the state of American schools:
"How are our children going to be able to compete with the children of the world? The answer is not well," said former Colorado governor Roy Romer, who is chairman of Strong American Schools.
International comparisons of student achievement, completed a decade ago, reveal that on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times.Hmmm. "Completed a decade ago" means 1973. I was a sophomore in high school that year, so this is a pretty precise reference to my generation, which apparently sucked too. And yet, despite this vast expanse of mid-70s suckitude, my generation has apparently been helping to power the United States to ever greater international dominance ever since. Ditto for Gen X and Gen Y. Somehow, having teenagers who manage only mediocre achievement scores compared to their counterparts in Europe and Asia doesn't seem to have much real-world effect on actual global success.
I dunno. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a German friend of mine about a decade ago. We were chatting about secondary education in our two countries, and long story short, German kids are better educated than American kids. At least, it sure seemed that way. But if that's the case, I asked, why does the American economy continue to do so well? Shouldn't Germany be kicking our ass? He shrugged and then told me a story about how rigid the German school system was and how long his brother had had to fight to get a decent (i.e., non-vocational) education.
I still wonder about this. If American kids are getting mediocre educations, and if they've been getting these mediocre educations for several decades now, shouldn't this have long since shown up in the business world, the tech world, and the financial world? And yet, it hasn't. So what's the deal? Makes me wonder if maybe American kids don't actually suck all that bad after all.