Ask Reading Kingdom: Why are American students falling behind other countries in education?

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The findings about the poor performance of US students relative to the students of other nations are extremely troubling. Unfortunately, given the way in which our educational system operates, the findings are all but inevitable. For example, consider the following:

School funding

In contrast to many other more successful systems, American school districts rely heavily on property taxes, with the result that wealthy districts have far more funds than poorer ones. A government report found that the wealthiest, highest-spending districts spend about twice as much per pupil as the lowest-spending districts. In some states such as California, the ratio is more than three to one. This has left 40 percent of American public school students in districts of “concentrated student poverty.” Consequently, schools are highly unequal, condemning vast numbers of children to inadequate education.

Cultivating diversity

Some countries with better performance are committed to having students of different backgrounds and abilities educated in the same classes. In Shanghai, for example, the city has brought children of migrant workers into the school system and is committed to the idea that the future depends on these children being as well educated as children from more privileged backgrounds. The comparison with practices in the United States could not be more dramatic.

Teacher training

Countries like Finland which achieve high scores recruit teachers from the top quarter of the graduating high school class because teaching is considered a prestigious occupation.  Further, the training they receive in the universities is rigorous. By contrast, in the US, the National Council on Teacher Quality termed teacher preparation programs “an industry of mediocrity” rating only 10% of 1200 programs as high quality.

These are far from the only factors involved. They serve, however, to illustrate the range of problems that permeate our system. Our poor performance is not the result of a lack of information. We know what actions must to be taken to create quality schools for all children. But those actions can only be executed if both the leaders and the general population work towards the significant policy changes that are needed.

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