“How many wake-up calls do we need?” asked Tom Luce, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. “These results show the tsunami that is building. The only cure for America’s economic decline is long-term growth, and that only happens with innovation—and that happens by catching up in education.”

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Time for responsibility

The National Association of Secondary School Principals released a statement acknowledging America’s stagnant results. The organization also noted, however, that the U.S cannot ignore “the persistent correlation between poverty and performance,” that “students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome,” and that “other nations solve this problem by sorting students into their fates beyond age 15. U.S. educators, however, commit to educating all students and encouraging them to high standards into the high school years.”

Still, OECD says poverty alone cannot account for the results. Although every country has different practices, according to PISA officials, socio-economic background plays no part in determining student performance in Asia.

And in 10 years, Korea has managed to double its amount of top student performers in all subjects.

“These results are challenging our conventional wisdom,” said Carmela Martin, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). “It shows us that poverty doesn’t mean destiny, and if other countries can improve so much in just one decade, we can do it, too.”

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan during a press conference, “but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better. The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

“During the [first] Bush administration, the goal was to have our students be first in the world in math and science by 2000, and we’ve continued to push that date further and further,” said Charles Kolb, president of the Committee on Economic Development. “How are we missing these goals? The pace of change is growing at an incredible rate, and here we are, not moving.”

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What are we doing wrong?

According to Andreas Schleicher, head of the Indicators and Analysis Division of OECD’s Directorate for Education, although it’s important to understand that each economy, province, state, district, and school has its own nuances and challenges, there are some common denominators for success: