Education leaders across the country were devestated when a Feb. 24 study ranked U.S. students among the industrial world’s worst in math and science. In physics and advanced mathematics, not one of the countries involved–even less well-off nations such as Greece, Cyprus , and Latvia–outperformed the United States. according to the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, based in Amsterdam. Why? Here, Terrance D. Paul, co-founder and vice-chairman of Advantage Learning Systems, offers an explanation and a remedy–the Editors.

A few months ago, news media across this country were abuzz over the United States’ poor showing in the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS).

“Who’s to blame?” everyone wanted to know.

Invariably, most blamed the teachers, the schools, the principals, socioeconomic factors–even an unrelated controversy over appropriate recess time.

But none of those criticisms accurately depicts the reason our students were so underwhelming on the TIMSS. In my opinion, the cause is not the teachers. A great majority of the teachers in U.S. public and private schools are dedicated, talented, and committed to educating the next generation. Rather, teachers do not have the right information necessary to accurately monitor students’ performance throughout the school year.

At the Institute for Academic Excellence, a subsidiary of Advantage Learning Systems, we believe students and teachers need data on performance, measured against clear educational objectives, delivered on a timely basis. Without well-timed, accurate measurement available on a daily basis, teachers are often working in the dark.

Before computers, this kind of feedback loop was admittedly difficult and time-consuming to create in education. But today, it is readily attainable and should be routine.

Learning Information Systems–computer programs that provide both teachers and students with accurate performance information–are a viable and affordable solution for the nation’s schools. Unlike many multimedia “edutainment” applications of computers, such systems don’t require heavy investment in hardware, nor do they attempt to replace the teacher. Rather, they provide instant access to accurate data that show precisely what learning is taking place and where the teacher needs to intervene–without drowning the teacher in additional paperwork.

Research done by the Institute shows that children in schools that use Learning Information Systems achieve higher test scores in reading, writing and math, and have better attendance. What’s more, they discover the love of learning–an invaluable intangible that students carry with them the rest of their lives.

Rather than attacking our schools, the news media and other opinion leaders should be helping our schools and teachers attain the information they need to improve our children’s education. The technology to acquire this information is here: Let’s not wait for the Fourth International Math and Science Study to improve our students’ performance.

Terrance D. Paul is co-founder and vice-chairman of Advantage Learning Systems. For a free research summary on the relationship of learning-system information and academic performance, send an eMail message with your name and address to