One of the world’s foremost experts on comparing national school systems told lawmakers on March 9 that many other countries are surpassing the United States in educational attainment, reports the New York Times—including Canada, where he said 15-year-old students were, on average, more than a full school year ahead of their American peers. America’s education advantage is eroding quickly as a greater proportion of students in more countries graduate from high school and college and score higher on achievement tests, said Andreas Schleicher, a senior education official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, which helps coordinate policies for 30 of the world’s richest countries. “Among OECD countries, only New Zealand, Spain, Turkey, and Mexico now have lower high school completion rates than the U.S.,” Schleicher said. His comments came in testimony before the Senate education committee, which is rewriting the nation’s education law. The committee also heard from Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association; John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable; and Charles Butt, chief executive of a supermarket chain in Texas, who said employers there faced increasing difficulties in hiring qualified young workers. The blame for America’s sagging academic achievement does not lie solely with public schools, Butt said, but also with dysfunctional families and a culture that undervalues education. “Schools are inheriting an over-entertained, distracted student,” he said. Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who leads the Senate committee, picked up on that comment. “Over-entertained and distracted—that’s right,” he said. “The problem lies with many kids before they get to school, and if we don’t crack that nut, we’re going to continue to patch and fill.”
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