Americans getting “out-educated”?

I came across this interesting article in the New York Times today on basically how students in China are smarter than students in the United States and that our education system here in the U.S. must step it up.

The test, the Program for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, was given to 15-year-old students by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group that includes the world’s major industrial powers…“We have to see this as a wake-up call,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview on Monday. “I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

The author of this article cites an individual who served in President Ronald Reagan’s Department of Education, calling this test a wake up call and the next Sputnik as a way to galvanize our country to take action and improve our education system.

A just as interesting response was posted in The Atlantic.

It is certainly arguable the Chinese educational system and culture leads the world in training students how to take tests. But it is not clear whether this type of training prepares students for much else other than taking tests. Certainly I have seen much evidence for this proposition in the Chinese graduate students that I have worked with. My favorite examples were the Chinese students with perfect TOEFL scores who could neither read nor write English in any meaningful way…With regard to educational policy in particular: Standardized tests my have their uses but structuring national educational systems around such tests seems to me to be a prescription for disaster. This is the road that we are on and in my view it is destroying public education. No one benefits from this unless they want public education to produce conformity and narrowly trained individuals with limited “shelf-life”.

I can see both sides of the argument. Certainly this one standardized test is not a cause for panic, but it does point to certain realities and even more incentives for why we should really focus on improving our education system.

One Response to “Americans getting “out-educated”?”
  1. Tom says:

    The truth seems to be that the US needs to step up efforts in many areas of education. We also should use this as a reminder of how important exchange students are to our college programs, and that immigration has helped the US overcome some of our educational shortfalls.

    At the same time, if I was China I wouldn’t brag about this as any kind of victory. I too have been working in China for several years, and I can tell you Shanghai is far from a representative sample. It would be like saying MIT grads are average college students. I would be really interested in a better sample in China.

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