‘Condition of Education’: U.S. Has Stiff Competition Abroad

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The older American students get, the more there is to worry about in their academic performance compared with that of peers abroad, a federal summary of recent international assessments shows.

U.S. high schoolers are outperformed in both math and science by their age mates from Asian and some European countries, according to “The Condition of Education 2006,” released last week. Fourth graders, though, perform “relatively well” in literacy and mathematics compared with their international peers, the annual report from the U.S. Department of Education says.

In 8th grade, the report adds, students are showing improvement in the comparisons.

Still, the overall trends are not encouraging for Americans, warned Mark S. Schneider, who heads the National Center for Education Statistics, the arm of the department that produces the report. “If we’ve done well at one point in time,” he said, “we’re not doing as well in 2003,” when most of the international assessments the analysis draws on were given.

Not only do most countries likely to be viewed as competitors significantly outpace the performance of American 15-year-olds on tests asking students to apply what they have learned in math and science, but many of those “countries are also getting better faster than we are” in 4th and 8th grade science and math, Mr. Schneider said.

No Political Agenda

The summary comes in a period of heightened attention by political and business leaders to U.S. students’ ability to compete on an international stage.

President Bush announced a sweeping new American Competitiveness Initiative at the start of the year, saying that students should be encouraged to take more math and science courses to help sustain the nation’s economy.

Mr. Schneider said the examination of U.S. performance on international tests in this year’s report was undertaken independent of any White House or business pressure. Each year, the NCES commissioner said, the subject of a “special analysis” is picked by staff members a year in advance of publication.

“It is not part of a political agenda,” he said. “It’s what the staff thinks is hot or upcoming.”

Vol. 25, Issue 39, Page 17

Published in Print: June 7, 2006, as ‘Condition of Education’: U.S. Has Stiff Competition Abroad
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