Is Your Smart Child Being Left Behind?

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How many times have your read news accounts about American students lagging behind countless other countries in academic achievement?

In a recent standardized test of math proficiency, we’re way behind Taiwan (No. 1), Hong Kong (No. 2) and Korea (No. 3), but wait. We can’t even compete with the likes of Slovenia and the Slovak Republic.

When I’ve read the occasional American-kids-are-stupid accounts, I’ve never panicked. After all, I figured my children went to schools that gave them an academic edge and certainly they could do far, far better than students in places like Azerbaijan and Turkey. I bet you were thinking the same thing.

Many people, including myself, assumed that lower-income kids and immigrants held down the scores of whatever tests American kids were failing at.

It might, however, be time to panic.

A fascinating story in the December issue of The Atlantic , Your Child Left Behind, makes a compelling case that even affluent American students are performing worse than the students of any income level in many well-off countries.

“People will find it quite shocking that even our most advantaged students are not all that competitive,” observed Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, who has sliced and diced the international academic data.

The State Where Smart Kids Fare the Best

Hanushek  also looked at the results of individual states and concluded that even states with a preponderance of educated residents aren’t faring well compared to developed countries. When researchers treated each state as its own country, Massachusetts performed the best — coming in 17th. Anybody surprised that it was predominantly Southern states that fared the worst with Mississippi — a perennial laggard – coming in last.

What’s the Problem?

So what are the reasons why smart affluent Americans students with every advantage aren’t kicking global butt?

Here are four reasons posited by the researchers that are not going to make you feel better:

1. It’s too easy to become a teacher. When Massachusetts implemented a basic literacy test for new teachers, for example, a third of them failed.

2. The focus isn’t on high-achieving students. There is less focus on these kids because it’s thought that they can do well without as much attention.

3. Common academic standards are rare.

4. Educators are focused on the wrong thing. Smaller class sizes, Hanushek insists, don’t tend to improve learning. Neither does throwing more money into schools.

After reading this depressing article, I wonder when America is going to start demanding more from our Schools of Education that are producing the nation’s teachers? When will they be held accountable?

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and She also writes a college blog for  CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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