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Compared with its counterparts abroad, the U.S. education system is "mediocre at best," a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concludes.

The criticism came in the international organization's annual economic survey, released in Washington last week.

While the short-term economic outlook for the United States is relatively good, the report says, worsening, long-term social problems such as poor-performing schools continue to trouble the nation.

Part of the problem, the 194-page document says, is a lack of widely recognized educational standards, other than those imposed in the form of college- and university-entrance requirements.

"Scores are low in international comparative testing," the study states, "and dropout rates for some ethnic minorities are high, despite the absence of even moderately rigorous exit requirements."

Marshall S. Smith, the undersecretary of the U.S. Education Department, responded that U.S. educators are developing national standards for commonly taught subjects and taking other steps to address the problems highlighted in the report. He added that the report ignores or denigrates other factors that could "suggest that the American education system is on the climb."

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