Academic journal article Education Next

Running in Place: Americans Are Learning More but Are Not Catching Up to the Rest of the World

Academic journal article Education Next

Running in Place: Americans Are Learning More but Are Not Catching Up to the Rest of the World

Article excerpt

"The United States' failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country's ability to thrive in a global economy, " claims a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations chaired by former New York City schools chancellor Joel I. Klein and former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

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Not true, says Yu Xie, a leading professor of sociology and statistics affiliated with the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. The press release summarizing the message of his book, Is American Science in Decline?, penned with Alexandra Killewald, declares that "American high school students are doing more coursework and performing better in mathematics and science than in the past." "All current signs indicate that American science can remain a leader of world science for many years to come," the authors declare.

So who is right? Are Klein and Rice scaremongers? Or is Xie whistling in the dark?

It is well documented that the math performance of even advanced students in the United States trails that of some 30 other countries (see "Teaching Math to the Talented," features, Winter 2011). And only 32 percent of U.S. students achieve proficiency by 8th grade, a percentage that places the United States at the 32nd level among countries whose performance has been surveyed ("Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?" features, Fall 2011).

But is the United States now beginning to catch up, as Xie suggests?

In a paper I prepared with coauthors Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann ("Is the U.S. Catching Up?" features, page 24), we answer this question by tracking gains in test performance between the early 1990s and 2011 in 49 countries. Noticeable gains in math, science, and reading have been achieved by U.S. students in 4th and 8th grade on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). …

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