Waiting for a New Sputnik

South Korea and Finland scored the highest amongst 15-year-old students in three main subjects of math, science, and reading according to a recently published report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Conversely, the United States has continued its educational skid, and currently sits at fourteenth, well behind the leading European and Asian countries.  Meanwhile, in China, there were large gains in the Shanghai-area, which have stunned officials, but many view the scores with skepticism, arguing the city does not represent the country as a whole.

The statistics are based on an OECD administrated test, known as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Over 470,000 students in 65 countries took part in the assessment last year.

At a Capitol Hill event, the OECD Division Head of the PISA program Andreas Schleicher presented the findings and demonstrated the transitioning landscape of education, particularly with the rise of Chinese cities and the stagnation of U.S. school systems.  Schleicher concluded his presentation by saying that “education can change, education is changing.”

At a PAGE event this past March, Schleicher addressed the growing achievement gap within the United States, adding that standards need to be reformed while empowering teachers to improve guidelines and methods.  Schleicher argued that the “resulting value of successful school reform far exceeds any conceivable costs of improvement.”

The U.S. hovers around average in reading and science, with math scores well below the OECD average.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the findings “a massive wake-up call.”  Secretary Duncan, hoping to use the report as driving force in education reform, remarked that “We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

In a speech at Forsyth Technical Community College in North Carolina, President Obama compared the education challenges of today to the space race at the height of the Cold War.  “Fifty years later, our generation’s Sputnik moment is back,” adding “nations with the most educated workers will prevail.”

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: Washington Post, New York Times, OECD, Huffington Post, Alliance for Excellent Education

Photo credit: Osterreich 2020 courtesy of flickr user SPO Presse und Kommunikation

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