NPR logo U.S. Students Again Trail Other Nations'


U.S. Students Again Trail Other Nations'

A hallway scene at Richmond High School in Richmond, Ind.,  on Nov. 29, 2010. There, struggling students are getting tutoring in a bid to have everyone graduate on time. Darron Cummings/AP hide caption

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Darron Cummings/AP

A new global study of educational systems in major nations ranks U.S. 15-year-olds 14th in the world in reading skills, 17th in science and 25th — below average — in math.

The results are "an absolute wake-up call for America," Education Secretary Arne Duncan tells the Associated Press. "We have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.''

The findings, which are online here, come from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's latest Program for International Student Assessment. It says the nations with the highest-scoring students included South Korea, Singapore and Canada.

Among the lessons the study's authors say the U.S. should learn:

— "If a country seeks better education performance, it is incumbent on the political and social leaders to persuade the citizens of that country to make the choices needed to show that it values education more than other areas of national interest. If the United States does not placeas high a value on education as those nations that get better education results, it is not likely to achieve the same level of education performance as those nations."

— "In the countries with the highest performance, teachers are typically paid better relative toothers, education credentials are valued more, and a higher share of educational spending is devoted to instructional services than is the case in the United States, where parents may not encourage their children to become schoolteachers if they think they have a chance of becoming attorneys, engineers, doctors or architects."

— In other nations where students score better, "universal high expectations are not a mantra but a reality and students who start to fallbehind are identified quickly, their problem is promptly and accurately diagnosed and the appropriate course of actionis quickly taken."