By Sally Holland
CNN Senior Producer
American children aren't necessarily getting smarter or dumber-but that might not be good enough to compete globally.
A special analysis put out by the National Center for Education Statistics last week compares 15-year-old U.S. students with other countries in the Organization for Economic Development and found that the U.S. students placed below average in both math and science. In math, the high schoolers were in the bottom quarter of the countries that participated, putting them behind countries like Finland, China and Estonia.
According to the report, the U.S. math scores were not measurable different in 2006 than the previous scores in 2003, but as other countries have improved, the United States has remained stagnant.
As for science, the U. S. falls behind countries like Canada, Japan and the Czech Republic.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a room full of science and math experts of the National Science Board on Tuesday morning that this will hurt the U.S. as we compete in the international community. He said, "We are lagging the rest of the world and we are lagging it in pretty substantial ways."
He added, "I think we have become complacent. We've sort of lost our way."
Speaking to the audience, Duncan acknowledged that in some areas of the U.S., it is hard to find good math and science teachers. To solve that problem, he said, "I think we should pay math and science teachers a lot more money. We pay everybody the same. We have areas of critical need, math, science, foreign language, special education in some places. I think we need to pay a premium for that."
The National Education Association, which represents teachers, is arguing against such a proposal. "Simply being a teacher of a hard-to-staff subject does not equate with effective instruction, and therefore, should not be rewarded in-and-of-itself through a salary differential," according to an NEA position statement.
For the younger students, the 4th and 8th graders that were part of the mathematics testing have improved their average scores compared to their European counterparts, but still lag behind their peers in Asian countries like Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Singapore.
In science, 4th graders have fallen behind other students even though their average scores remain about the same. The 8th graders scores remain about the same compared to 1995.
"It has huge implications," Duncan says. "I think as a real economic imperative we have to educate our way to a better economy."
The study by the National Center for Education Statistics can be found at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/2009/analysis/index.asp.
Filed under: Education
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