From teach-to-test straitjacket to school disparity, chronic school problems that American schools face are being solved in different ways around the world.
John Kehe/The Christian Science Monitor
American schoolchildren are heading back to the classroom amid an intensifying debate as shrill with urgency as the bell urging them to their desks: how to ensure that they will be able to compete in a global market when they graduate.
Study after study in recent years suggests that American children fall well behind kids from Seoul to Helsinki, putting them at a great disadvantage in an increasingly knowledge-driven and global economy. The United States ranked 30th in mathematics literacy, 20th in science, and 14th in reading in the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test administered every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In math, noted a February report to the US Education Department by the Equity and Excellence Commission, "only one in four of America's 52 million K-12 students is performing on par today with the average student in the highest-performing school systems in the world."
These shortcomings take their toll on the economy. In a 2010 study, Eric Hanushek of Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich charted a correlation between gross domestic product and PISA scores: They posited that it would take the US 20 years to implement the kind of reforms that would enable it to reach Finnish levels – and that, if the US did that, its GDP would grow by 700 percent by the end of the century.
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