Focus on Success Here, Not Abroad

October 28, 2008 1 min read
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Here’s another rebuttal of the notion that U.S. schools and students are being outperformed by other nations. Veteran Washington Post education reporter and columnist Jay Mathews in an Op/Ed piece in the Boston Globe takes issue with the claims that American students have fallen far behind their counterparts in India and China and elsewhere.

“The widespread feeling that our schools are losing out to the rest of the world, that we are not producing enough scientists and engineers, is a misunderstanding fueled by misleading statistics,” he writes. “Reports regularly conclude that the United States is falling behind other countries—in the number of engineers it produces, in the performance of its students in reading or in mathematics. But closer examinations of these reports are showing that they do not always compare comparable students, skewing the results.”

But the picture he paints of American schools is not glowing. Too many of the nation’s urban and rural schools are “simply bad.”

“Not only are we denying the children who attend them the equal education that is their right, but we are squandering almost a third of our intellectual capital,” Mathews writes. “We are beating the world economically, but with one hand tied behind our back.”

There are a couple of initiatives under way in the United States to set standards that align with international benchmarks, meaning the expectations that other countries hold for their students at various grade levels. But while proponents say this strategy will bring world-class schooling to America, critics argue that such expectations will leave more students in the dust.

Mathews (who is a board member for Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week) suggests focusing not on what other countries are doing, but on success stories among urban schools in U.S. cities for examples of the real potential for raising student achievement in the most unlikely places.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


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