Why Can’t American Students Compete?

Twice as many students in Singapore are proficient in math as in the United States. (Even ‘brainy’ Massachusetts lags behind Liechtenstein.)

“We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time,” President Obama said in his State of the Union address this year. “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and outbuild the rest of the world.” Yet despite the economic crisis facing the country, the U.S. educational system remains frozen in place, unable to adapt to contemporary global realities.

As all schoolchildren know, water freezes to solid, barren, cracked ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. So maybe it is more than a mere coincidence that 32 percent of U.S. public and private-school students in the class of 2011 are deemed proficient in mathematics, placing the United States 32nd among the 65 nations that participated in the latest international tests administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States ranks between Portugal and Italy and far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands, to say nothing of the city of Shanghai, with its 75 percent proficiency rate.

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