In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama devoted several lines to the slumping stature of U.S. education, by our own standards and globally.
Obama said as many as a quarter of our students aren't even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree.
The President went on to how good our educational system can and must again become. He did not dwell on how bad things now are.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, a more detailed version of the bad news came out. The Nation's Report Card released the 2009 Science National Assessment of Educational Progress report. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was not happy with the numbers.
The results released today show that our nation's students aren't learning at a rate that will maintain America's role as an international leader in the sciences, Duncan said. When only 1 or 2 percent of children score at the advanced levels on NAEP, the next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors, and engineers.
Was there at least progress over past years? Duncan could not say.
The 2009 NAEP science assessment created a new framework, so it's not possible to compare scores to earlier tests. But the results show that schools need to urgently accelerate student learning in the sciences, Duncan said.
The NAEP are standardized tests administered to students in Grades 4, 8, and 12. The NAEP has four rankings, referring to the student's skill level: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. In the Science 2009 NAEP:
Among fourth-graders; 72 percent scored Basic or above, 34 percent were Proficient or above. One percent scored on the Advanced level, and 28 percent scored Below Basic.
Among eighth-graders; 63 percent Basic or above, 30 percent Proficient or above, two percent Advanced and 37 percent Below Basic.
Among twelfth-graders; 60 percent Basic or above, 21 percent Proficient or above, one percent Advanced and 40 percent Below Basic.
Not only are there the small ratios in Advanced students, as Duncan pointed out, but there are concurrent declines over the school years in the Proficient and Basic levels.
Even though NAEP developed no means for its test to be compared to former tests, so that the progress test was unable to measure progress, Duncan was confident that the poor showing was indicative. Other credible tests corroborate it.
Globally, the US ranks 15th on the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which is a set of standardized tests of 15 year-olds around the world, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a 50-year-old association of 34 of the world's industrial nations, including the U.S.
The PISA has been administered in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009. The 2009 results were published in December 2010.
The national rankings are based on the average scores of tests in reading, math and science, given to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country. The number one rank went to China, second to Korea, third to Finland, fourth Hong Kong and fifth Singapore.
Then Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, and Switzerland.
Then Poland, Iceland and the U.S., tied for 15th.
Their score was 500, which is the statistical average. The U.S. scores in the three main categories (reading involved several tests) were either average or below average.
Duncan reiterated the administration's commitment to improving student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Our nation's long-term economic prosperity depends on providing a world-class education to all students, especially in mathematics and science, Duncan said.