The Need to Broaden Our Perspective Concerning America's Educational Attainment
Allegations about the low performance of U.S. students compared to their counterparts in other nations repeatedly surface in the media. For example, in a recent survey by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), the U.S. ranked 15th in science in a field of 17 nations. This low showing internationally is now accepted by policy makers and repeated as part of the conventional wisdom. Business leaders point with alarm to the declining skills of the labor force and proclaim that the U.S. economy will lose out to Asian and European competitors.
There may be cause for alarm, but the current policy discussion is partly misleading because it does not analyze what happens to U.S. students and their international counterparts after high school. Similarly, the National Education Goals Panel needs to assess the performance of the entire U.S. education system, not just that portion of it devoted to students up to the age of 18.
Such indicators as the IEA assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Scholastic Aptitude Test, secondary school standardized achievement tests, and state assessment programs all ignore the value added by the postsecondary education system. But in the international arena, the United States' strongest suit is probably its entire postsecondary education system, including community colleges, trade schools, and universities.
This article was originally published in the Phi Delta Kappan by Phi Delta International and Journal Storage (JSTOR).