The new results were released from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tested hundreds of thousands of 15-year-old students from 30 industrialized countries. The results, which were released last week, show that American students are below average in math and science. Out of 30 industrialized nations, American students rank 25th in math and 21st in science, and our average scores on both tests are below the U.S. averages from the 2003 test. America is falling behind its global competitors and the economic security of our children is at risk.
Nations like Germany, Japan and South Korea are demonstrating a superior ability to teach their kids, and we don't need a crystal ball to predict that capital investments and high-paying jobs are going to flow to those nations with the best educated workforce.
If an American corporation produced such mediocre outcomes, then the CEO would be fired immediately. Yet, American schools continue to churn out below-average students with no fear of consequences.
The discouraging part of our declining test scores is what it says about our nation's long-term well-being. From the light bulb to the microchip, the United States historically has been at the forefront of developing groundbreaking technology. Why? Because the United States consistently developed or attracted the world's greatest scientific minds.
But as we lose that intellectual advantage, we also lose an economic advantage. Nations like Germany, Japan and South Korea are demonstrating a superior ability to teach their kids, and we don't need a crystal ball to predict that capital investments and high-paying jobs are going to flow to those nations with the best educated workforce.
The crisis in schools is so severe that inaction is potentially devastating, which is why the nation's next president should lead the charge to systematically fix America's failing schools. The next president cannot do this alone; he or she must work collectively with our nation's governors, state and local leaders, teachers and parents to improve education in this country.
Just like Sputnik challenged our supremacy of the world and inspired greater emphasis in science and math, ultimately resulting in winning the race to the moon, now is the time for Americans to work together to solve the crisis in education. The next president must make education a priority and offer bold education plans to improve our schools and ensure the economic security of our children.
Why are our international peers outperforming us? There are clear, common threads between the education systems of the highest-performing nations. These countries have established uniform, rigorous standards, invested in their teachers and given more time and support to their students.
We need greater expectations and higher education standards. The reliance on computer technology has made math and science more important than ever. Yet by the end of 8th grade, what passes for the U.S. math curriculum is two years behind the math being learned by students in foreign countries. We need modern academic standards that will ensure kids are better prepared for today's workplace demands.
Another area that merits closer inspection is school calendars. Our current academic years continue to be scheduled as if they are straight out of the 19th-century agrarian model, when kids were needed during the afternoons and summers to help perform work around the home or farm. As a result, American children spend less time learning than their foreign peers. If we expect American students to be competitive, then we must find ways to get them more effective classroom time.
Finally, our greatest asset in education is our teachers, and we need new ways to attract and retain the best educators. Seven in 10 recent college graduates think teaching doesn't offer good opportunities for advancement and they are right. If we want highly qualified and motivated teachers, then we must re-examine the ways we pay teachers and find ways to reward them for teaching complex subjects or taking on difficult assignments.
Making these changes doesn't require a federal takeover over of schools, but it requires national leaders who spur others into action. The individuals now seeking the presidency should use their time in the spotlight to begin sounding the drumbeat for improving our schools. If we want a 21st century workforce, we can begin by building 21st-century classrooms.
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI. Former Colorado governor Roy Romer is chairman of Strong American Schools.