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Monday, September 15, 2014

Rich school, poor school

On Dec. 3, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released results of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment, a set of three tests — in literacy, science and math — which is given every three years to 15-year-olds in 65 nations. As usual, American students’ performance on the exams was ho-hum at best and horrid at worst.

At least that’s what the educational experts told us.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that America’s results painted a “picture of educational stagnation.” Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Here’s the thing: If education is the foundation that society is built on, and American students are as educationally ill-prepared as PISA has appeared to indicate since it began in 2000, why has our nation not yet collapsed? How are we able to remain relevant politically, militarily, scientifically and artistically across the globe? Why, for decades, has the U.S. boasted the world’s No. 1 economy?

The answer is both simple and complex. The U.S. has one of the finest education systems in the world, if not the finest. No, really, it does. Certainly there is no question that America has the world’s greatest higher education system, envied by nations everywhere. According to Thomson Reuters, an investment and financial news service, 60 percent of the world’s top 50 universities are American, including 14 of the top 20. Who populates these universities? By and large, American students. Harvard perennially tops the Thomson Reuters chart. According to the Harvard Gazette, 89 percent of the university’s 2013-14 freshman class is American.

If U.S. schools are merely mediocre, where did these outstanding freshmen come from? They didn’t just appear out of nowhere. They were educated in American –– not Finnish or Japanese –– high schools, both public and private.

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