Education Olympics

August 27, 2008

All this recent talk of Olympic gold medals and international competition has stirred my patriotic streak. I hope you caught the bug as well. But cheering got me thinking — where does the United States stack up in other competitions?

I stumbled across the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Education Olympics today and was struck by the drastic difference in position that the United States assumes when comparing our students with students around the world.

The basic premise of this competition is to compile the results of a number of tests and assessments that are used worldwide and award medals to the countries whose students are most successful. The Education Olympics looks at the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, the Programme for International Student Assessment, and the Civic Education Study, as well as at graduation rates and the number of bachelor’s degree recipients.

One thing that really stood out to me, differentiating the Education Olympics from the Olympics I’ve been glued to my television watching, is that while the Education Olympics awards the best or highest-achieving country in many instances, it also takes the time to evaluate countries where students aren’t meeting proficiency on these tests. The United States truly fails in this regard, for example, ranking 38th out of 57 in getting 15-year-olds at or above basic achievement levels in science. Much as AAUW’s new research report Where the Girls Are explains, many students are falling behind. I’d love to see the United States winning gold medals for the highest achievement in education, but I would also be bolstered by the knowledge that we haven’t failed so many of our students either.

In the end the United States won a single medal in the Education Olympics, for civic education. Compare that with the 110 medals the United States ended up with in athletic Olympic competition — we should be doing better, right?

Anne Hedgepeth By:   |   August 27, 2008

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