With increasing anxiety, advocates of American education have been looking at other countries around the world and asking: What do they know that we don't know?

To be sure, educational and political leaders in many countries besides the United States understand that their people's well-being depends more than ever on the strength of their educational systems. They also understand the power of technology.

But in the U.S., where the belief that more young people must acquire "21st-century skills" has become a mantra in education circles, American students' comparatively poor showing on international tests, notably in math and science, has raised the level...

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