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American 15-Year-Olds Are Sucking at Math and Science: Should We Start Freaking Out?

800px-Test_(student_assessment)Driving home from school the other day, I was listening to NPR (as I am won’t to do), and there was an alarming story about American teens. It wasn’t about how they have a sense of entitlement, or how they are being lured by drugs and alcohol; no, the news was about their intelligence, or lack thereof.

Apparently our kids are sucking at the all-important subjects of math and science.

Okay, perhaps “sucking,” is a strong word. The more appropriate word is that our kids are “lagging,” which is the verbiage the New York Times used to describe the results of the newest international standardized test, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (based in Paris), administered the test to 15-year-olds in 65 different countries and the results were sobering to us parents of kids in the United States.

In math, 29 countries did better than the U.S., in science, 22 countries did better, and in reading, 19 countries did better. Better, better, better … yes, all sorts of countries, such as China, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea are totally beating us in those all-important subjects. For the United States to stay competitive on the world stage, we need to make sure that we remain power players in science, business, and development.

So what do we do about this, and should the PISA scores be a cause for alarm?

The Washington Post writes:
“Why can’t our schools be more like those in Shanghai (where most students attend after-school tutoring, teachers get extensive training and Chinese officials are worried about too much standardized testing), or Singapore (where officials are reforming schools to help kids become confident, moral, analytical thinkers with a “zest for life”), South Korea (famous for its after-school cram schools), and Japan (also known for its cram schools)? We wouldn’t really want them to be.”

The New York Times writes:
“Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the liberal Economic Policy Institute and a fellow at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, said he put little stock in the PISA results. He said educators and academics should “stop hyperventilating” about international test rankings, particularly given that students are already graduating from college at higher rates than can be absorbed by the labor market.”

So we should 1) “stop hyperventilating” and 2) not turn our schools into “cram” schools. Instead, our educational system needs to just improve. Simple as that. Okay, maybe not that simple. With budget cuts nationwide and various policies getting in the way, changes are hard to achieve. Another challenges is that some parents and educators worry that if more focus is spent on math and science, then creativity will be sacrificed, but this is where creativity can really be useful — to find creative solutions and creative ways to teach our children these fundamentals.

Do you worry about testing scores like this, and do you think America will be losing its competitive edge due to the state of our schools?

 

Photo Source: Wiki Commons

 

 

 

 

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