American Students Just “Mediocre”? I Don’t Think So

by Christopher Paslay


Americans—the American media and politicians in particular—have a fetish for griping about how lousy public education is in the United States.  Ever since President Regan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education published the infamous report, A Nation At Risk, our whole country’s just been beside itself when it comes to America’s schools. 


Woe is America!  Our children are in trouble!  They can’t do math!  Or science!  The educational system in America is in shambles!


Enough is enough already.  Let’s stop all the doom and gloom.  America is the best country in the world, and so is our education system.  Don’t think so?  Check out this report in USA Today that highlights the fact that nearly 583,000 foreign students studied in the USA during the 2006-07 academic year. 


Amazing, isn’t it?  Over a half a million young people eager to learn—many from China and the Asian countries that are topping the test score charts—are coming to the US to get their educations. 


People from all over the world understand very clearly that America is where you go to get the best education.  This year’s Summer Olympics are a case in point.  It seemed that every college athlete competing in the games—whether it was track and field or swimming—was going to school in the US.  It was amazing to witness.  Jamaicans were going to school at the University of Kentucky.  Kenyans at Villanova.  Australians at UCLA.  The list went on and on.


I know—these are colleges, not high schools.  But when you look past all the media bias and posturing by politicians running for office, when you look at our county’s public schools as a whole (when we don’t focus on the dozen or so large urban school districts who are crippled by poverty and a culture that doesn’t value education), our country is doing pretty damn well. 


According to The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), American fourth graders were 11th out of 36 countries in math and 8th in science.  Eighth graders were ninth out of 48 in math and 11th in science.  Sure, we’re not at the top, but that’s just because math and science aren’t hip in America.  It’s a cultural thing, not a school issue.  Plus, the professors who write educational policy from their ivory towers in academia don’t want us to be number one (hence differentiated instruction, the very hot and very unrealistic trend in education).  Number one isn’t good.  Number one doesn’t leave room for improvement.  Number one would put a lot of people out of a job, cost educational testing companies billions. 


Regardless of our place on the TIMSS, America’s schools are working.  Our children are not only well educated, but will be the global leaders of tomorrow.  This is a fact, and no matter how hard newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer try to downplay the ability of our youth (US students still test as mediocre, Inquirer, 12/10) we know who they are, and how strong our country’s school system is.

3 thoughts on “American Students Just “Mediocre”? I Don’t Think So

  1. One might argue that people don’t necessarily study in another country for the “education system” but for the experience. You could probably cited large numbers of “international students” studying in a number of different countries and this doesn’t necessarily mean those countries are the “best” places to get an education. (And what about the fact that USA students study in other countries?)

    Don’t a lot of athletes come over here to train because of various coaches and facilities?

    I’m not trying to put down the education system here. Frankly I haven’t done the research to adequately compare the USA to any country. But statements like “America is the best country in the world, and so is our education system.” and “People from all over the world understand very clearly that America is where you go to get the best education.” are not only pretty obnoxious but don’t seem to be based on anything.

  2. Dear Chris
    I read your response to American students being called ‘mediocre’ by Philadelphia Inquirer. I understand your frustration when people hurl such abuses. Instead of acting hurt and re-attacking them with words, how about teaching some test taking strategies to our students? Our students are not good test takers. Partially we teachers have to be blamed as many of us do not expose them to such a test language. I am also a High school chemistry teacher working towards the betterment of PSSA Science scores. I know the drawbacks of my students. I am trying to work with them. I put in extra hours of test prep on Saturdays to help them fare better.
    By the way, had to make this final comment that most of the foreign students are attracted to America because of its technological advancement and not due to any other reason ( this is based on personal experience).

  3. Hi Kamala,

    The irony in Philadelphia is this: we have some of the best test takers in the state, as well as some of the worst. Masterman and Central usually have the highest SAT averages in the entire state of PA. Bodine, Girls’ High and Carver are at the top as well.

    The avergares of Philly’s other schools are not as consistent. It’s great that you spend Saturdays working on test prep with your students. I teach 11th grade English so test taking strategies–as well as PSSA prep–is a BIG part of my work load.

    But just as with anything, you want to have an even balance. Teaching to a test can be counterproductive if not done in moderation. I stress communication and critical thinking skills with my students more than anything. This way, they learn to THINK their way through the tests, and are able to articulate their thoughts on open-ended questions.

    With that said, I guess the reason I wrote this post is because I’m tired of all the teacher/school system bashing that goes on in this country. EVERYONE contributes to the education of our children–schools, parents, communities, society, technology, politicians, etc (and many of these entities are not pulling their own weight). Yet our schools take the brunt of the criticism–even though our country produces some of the best and brightest.

    Thanks for writing.

    –Chris Paslay

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