American underachievement and the best ways to reverse it has become an ongoing and urgent national conversation among educators and politicians, as well as a public embarrassment every three years when the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tables are released. The next PISA results are due later this year, and for many reasons, we can guess that the United States will not be at the top of the list.
The good news is that, for the last 20 years or so, groups such as the OECD and others have started benchmarking student achievement around the world, and best practices have been highlighted. This has given all countries, including the United States, the possibility of change without necessarily having to reinvent the wheel.
Awareness of these best practices has also brought attention and major growth to IB (International Baccalaureate) programs. In early January, Jeffrey Beard, the IB’s general director, met with a few educators and members of the media, including me. Among other things, I learned that the intention of Alex Peterson, one of the IB’s original founders, was for students to appreciate other cultures. He believed that this would thereby help to create a less conflicted and more peaceful world. By creating leaders through a rigorous and constructionist-like education model founded on global standards, public and private schools are using the IB program to prepare students for an increasingly competitive world market. The IB, which is currently offered in 1,296 World Schools in the United States alone, has an impressive college graduation rate, and the organization has just announced an IB career-related certificate aimed at vocational students.
In this issue, among many other solution-oriented topics, we explore American underachievement in “What Can U.S. Schools Learn from Foreign Counterparts?” Some high schools in four states are participating in a pilot program called Excellence for All that includes a new kind of school structure, curriculum and testing that could have a broad impact on schools across the country. The program is based on 20 years of research by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) on countries whose students routinely outperform U.S. students. The schools will be using some of the best high school curricula and assessments in the world, including those from the College Board, the University of Cambridge in England, the IB Program and ACT.
These forward-thinking programs encourage me to think that the U.S. education system is on the mend and that the anger I periodically feel when I read U.S. education stats compared to other nations may soon dissipate.