Every three years, 15-year-olds around the world take an examination that measures problem-solving skills in math, reading and science.
And every three years, the U.S. education industry simultaneously laments our students' poor performance and attempts to defend itself from those eager to change the system. Groups on the attack generally try to use the low scores to demand the creation of voucher systems, the dismantling of unions, tying teacher pay to student performance, or more broadly to suggest throwing more money at the system does not improve results -- so let's not spend so much.
On occasion, the attacks work and sweeping reforms take place. We would argue they're not always for the better. The country still is untangling itself from the collective bungle of good intentions known as No Child Left Behind.
Still, America continues to post weak scores in the international rankings. It should be reasonable to expect the greatest superpower with the self-proclaimed best education system in the world to do better than average. We don't even hit average in some areas.
In mathematics literacy, the U.S. average score was 481 -- 13 points lower than the overall average of the 65 nations and educational systems taking part in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment. The U.S. score was higher than 26 systems, which included countries such as Romania, Kazakhstan, Costa Rica and Qatar. It was lower than 29 systems including multiple regions in China, Canada, Japan, Germany and France. We were more on par with the Russian Federation, Lithuania and Sweden.
The 497 score U.S. students had in science literacy was slightly under the overall 501 average. We were able to outperform Tunisia, Chile and Romania.
Reading literacy had an overall average of 496, with the U.S. posting a 498. We were ahead of Slovenia, Bulgaria and Montenegro, but far behind the Chinese regions, Finland, Ireland, Poland and Estonia.
Before all the predictable "solutions" are offered, the American public should be reminded there is a plan in place. You recall Common Core, correct? If you don't, there will be multitudes of politicians reminding you as they fight to dismantle them once again.
We would recommend ignoring the naysayers. The Common Core standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, were created with goals based on international standards and tests. It is an attempt to ditch the state-by-state approach that has resulted in disparate results. Common Core sets a guide for which skills U.S. students have at each grade level, then allows each school district to develop its own curriculum to attain those goals.
Supporters of Common Core argue not only will the new standards help prepare high school graduates for college and the work force, we will fare much better in these international comparisons. The actual scores might not appear to make much of a difference, but in the global economy it is better to be viewed as smart and brilliant than barely mediocre. This is a competitive advantage we need working for us once again.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry