Do Standards Push Yoshi to Whip Johnny in Math?
Scott Baldauf, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Johnny may whoop and holler about the A he got in mathematics. But when he finds out what it takes to get by in Japan, Germany, and France, he may suddenly grow quiet.
A comparison of each country's college-entrance exams offers a new way of ranking the educational systems of the United States and its economic competitors. Indeed, these tests, which serve as the stern gatekeepers of higher education, may offer the clearest look yet at how the world's industrial powers prepare their students for college.
An examination of American tests such as the SAT and the entrance exams of France, Germany, and Japan shows a huge gap in expectations, performance, and consequences. Japanese students are expected to know higher levels of math, including calculus; American students can stick to ninth-grade algebra and geometry. French students must explain their answers in depth; Americans can guess at multiple choice. Germans who fail their exams don't go to college; Americans who do poorly on the SAT just choose to attend a less choosy school. In a new study, "What Students Abroad Are Expected to Know About Mathematics," the American Federation of Teachers suggests that a single set of academic standards may be the reason students from the world's industrial powers are prepared to tackle tougher math tests. "The difference is that these other countries all have ... a common curriculum, tests based on the curriculum, and incentives for students to work hard in school," says Sandra Feldman, the new AFT president. "There is no parallel in the United States, so it's no surprise that our students don't perform as well." Study authors say the findings add weight to President Clinton's argument that the US needs higher academic standards and rigorous national tests. He links improved education performance to America's ability to power an Information Age economy. "Other countries have national standards, and they're very demanding," says Matthew Gandal, an AFT official in Washington and author of the study. …