EDUCATION reform ranks high on America's priority list, but a federal report released Tuesday indicates that something is finally going right with the school system.
Fewer black students are dropping out of high school, more women are receiving advanced degrees, and the United States leads other industrialized countries in the number of people with high school and college diplomas, according to the 1992 US Department of Education study, "The Condition of Education."
The study, conducted by the department's National Center for Educational Statistics, says that 82 percent of Americans aged 25 to 64 have finished high school, compared with about 65 percent of their Japanese and Canadian counterparts.
"We are the most schooled people in the world. The question remains whether we are the most educated people in the world," says Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch.
Japan and Germany, however, are ahead of the US among a narrower range of young adults, the report says.
About 92 percent of German and Japanese citizens between ages 25 and 34 have high school diplomas, compared with 87 percent of Americans.
The US leads other countries in overall schooling because it has made education available to almost anybody who wants it, says C. Emily Feistritzer, director of the National Center for Education Statistics.
In contrast, countries such as Germany provide universal education up to a certain level and then screenout students who want to continue their schooling she explains.
"They don't emphasize equity as much as we do," Ms. Feistritzer says. "Sometimes, though, [the US] takes equity at the expense of excellence."
The study found that the number of black Americans aged 19 and 20 who had finished high school increased from 68 percent in 1973 to 78 percent in 1990.
But Hispanics did not share these gains. The study showed that less than 60 percent of Hispanics aged 25 to 29 finished high school in 1991 - roughly the same figure as in 1973.
American women appear to have made advances in education at all levels over the last 20 years. The number of women with advanced degrees has increased by about 16 percent since 1977, and the tendency for girls aged 9 to 17 to fall behind boys in math and science hasdiminished slightly.