Is Your Smart Child Being Left Behind?

How many times have you 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 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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3 Responses to Is Your Smart Child Being Left Behind?

  1. joe santiago August 29, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    in a perfect world all can be done,but fact is that not every kid has 2parents at home waiting for them to help them with there home work.years back when the mother used to stay home they had the time to help them,if as you say that they need better teachers then tell me this how come all these politicians graduated ,doctors and so many others graduated back then. so whats wrong with these teachers now?well for one every kid now comes from a broken home,politicians turn everything they touch into mush,theres no money for our schools yet there is money for wars and to rebuild those schools abroad were they are spending our tax $in other countrys but not ours and the list goes on and on.

  2. Gayle April 25, 2011 at 12:08 am #

    Your post could spark a dynamic (and at times, heated) discussion about the state of education in our country. Although there are many root causes for our achievement lag, your last idea about teacher preparation college accountability is one I that I, too, feel strongly about, We have some top notch, selective schools of education, but we also have schools that do not have rigorous programs or professors who go beyond their own classroom doors to be really in touch with what teachers and students really need to know and be able to do.

    Let’s not forget that a child’s first teacher is his/her parent(s). Yes, we need more highly qualified teachers, but we also need highly qualified parents who instill a love of learning in the early years and make school a priority from the beginning. My most successful students over the years (spanning all ability levels) have families who are invested in education, share the commitment between home and school and expect a child’s personal best.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy April 25, 2011 at 12:50 am #

      Thanks Gayle,

      I agree with everything you so eloquently said. I do believe that the most important factor in whether children succeed in school is their parents.

      Here in San Diego, a palace of a high school was constructed in a very poor neighborhood to replace a run-down facility and the community seemed to think that this shiny — super expensive — new campus would lead to higher test scores, greater graduation rates and more wonderful outcomes. Just as I suspected, these results have not materialized. The teenagers still have to return to their homes when school is over. That’s the root of the problem.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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