So what can get America to the Finnish line?
The Monitor looked at five lauded programs around the globe that hold lessons in areas in which the US struggles: educational equity, testing, vocational options, summer learning loss, and well-rounded education that includes everything from arts to literacy and numeracy.
Of course, no single policy is a magic bullet, and the list is by no means all-inclusive. But it is "the principles underneath particular innovations [that matter]," says Marc Tucker, author of "Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World's Leading Systems" and president of the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington. "Principles will travel; particulars will not."
US getting beaten at its own game?
There is one metric in which the US consistently excels, show studies by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an international consortium of 400 researchers: entrepreneurship. Scholars have noticed an inverse correlation between GEM rankings and PISA scores. This has worried some Singaporeans, for example, who fear that rote memorization and intensely focused studies might account for their nation's high PISA scores but bode ill for innovation-driven growth.
A company like Apple would not emerge in a structured country like Singapore, the company's cofounder Steve Wozniak told the BBC in 2011, because that would require a society with great artists, musicians, and writers. "Where are the creative people?" he asked.