Is there reliable info as to the U.S.'s failing education?

I’ve never really been able to swallow the “failing education pill” that politicians have been trying to feed us in their campaigns for election. Like urban legends, politicians love to rely on the fact that most people are just too lazy to verify the statements they’re throwing around. How much of the poor education problem is nothing more than a politician trying to boost his chances for getting elected by making a mountain out of a mole hill? We’ve been hearing that our education system has been declining for so long that it’s easy for people to just assume that such is the case - but is it? Sure, we have a teacher shortage and salary issues, but does that mean the student GPA is in decline?

Okay, so is there any verifiable data available? Any unbiased research that we can rely on? I’d be interested to know how they determine that our education standards have been dropping over time. Aside from the political camps, what were the conclusions of the researchers themselves?

On a side note, I’ve heard several Europeans state that America’s education is worse than that of (insert country of origin here.) When pushed, those I talked to could only suggest it was “common knowledge.” They also offset the news by suggesting that while America’s lower education wasn’t as good, we had a better college system that helped us even things up in the long run. What testing was done to determine that Americans lag behind Europeans? Were students from both sides of the Atlantic given an identical test or something?

I would have thought that this kind of thing is extraordinarily difficult to measure.

[Anecdotal evidence]A good friend has experience teaching undergraduates in Ireland and in the US. His impression was that Irish college entrants knew more than their US counterparts, and understood what they knew (i.e. they had not just absorbed lots of undigested facts; tjhey had really got to grips with their subjects), but that US college entrants were more curious, more creative and more open to wherever study might lead them which, in the end, made for better scholarship.

This might suggest that the US high school system was better at preparing students for further study; the Irish system might have had the edge from the point of view of a student who wasn’t going on to further study, or who was going on to strictly vocational or professional training, rather than a broader education.[/Anecdotal evidence]

Of course, this is just the impression of one person based on experience in one university in Ireland and one in the US, and so it’s fairly meaningless. The point is, however, that differences between the US system and the systems of other countries (or differences between the US system today and in the past) may be either strengths or weaknesses, depending on your point of view, and what you think is the proper object of an educational system.

i think we have gotten a exsalent skool sistem hear iN the USA

I can’t speak to the entirety of the post, but I can address this with an anecdote from (I think) Bill Bryson’s Made in America. Some education types conducted a test among 18-year-olds in the States and in Britain, and found the American students to be drooling idjits compared to the British.

But then it was pointed out that at age 18 the Americans were finishing up their required secondary school . . . which in Britain is done two years earlier, at age 16. If you’re still in school at age 18 in Britain, it’s postsecondary education and you’re there because you want to be there. So basically the test compared motivated, bright British students with a typical group of American high school students–think of your senior yearbook, and cringe-- a real apples-to-oranges type of comparison.

Of course, this points out the problems with comparing educational systems. How can you do it? What standards can one apply to heterogenous educational systems? My personal opinion is that we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others. IMHO, it’s more important to focus on the obvious things wrong with our system, like:

–crumbling inner-city school buildings

–the horrible inequities in school financing between city and suburban school systems

–the insertion of politics and religion into curricula

–our seeming inability to teach math and science

–the complete denuding of arts education for all but the richest school systems

–the overdependence on standardized testing at the expense of the development of critical thinking skills.

But that’s just what I think.

Airblaxxx has hit it on the head: nearly all other countries cherry pick. Only the top students graduate from academic high schools (or the equivalent). Those who can’t hack it go elsewhere. Thus, testing their students is like only testing the top portion of U.S. students. AFAIK, no comparison does anything to correct for this big difference.

Another issue is the low dropout rate in the U.S. The dropout percentage is quite small (and consider, back in the 30s, the graduation rate was less than 50%). We try to keep everyone in school. If you do that, the average score in any test will go down, since poor students are more likely to drop out.

This is a political issue (and probably belongs in Great Debates). But people of all political stripes have a vested interest in pointing out how bad the schools are. Liberals and teachers use it to argue for more money for the schools; conservatives use it as an argument for charter schools. Challengers can beat incumbents by saying they’ll do more for the bad education.

And the facts are irrelevant.

About the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement Their site:
some articles:

Well, I’m sorry to take this tack, but we all are required to determine for ourselves what we consider to be failure and success when we judge a school or a school system, or a student, for that matter. How successful is the American school system? Depends on what you think it’s for. Really. And it’s not so simple. Do you want schools to be part of the formula for creating decent, compassionate global citizens, able to think for themselves, with a healthy respect for history, nature, society? If so, then to what extent are we doing that? You make the call. Do you want to produce workers that can populate jobs, industries, and in general be the currency of economic prosperity for Americans? Do you want to produce scholars? Artists? Statesmen? Athletes? Do you want to produce an America of people who can do well on the various tests that are given students? When you know what you want schools to do, then you can make some judgments about how well they appear to be doing that and what you will accept as evidence.