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The Alliance for Excellent Education Calls for Greater U.S. Involvement in International Measurements

Press Release:

The Alliance for Excellent Education Calls for Greater U.S. Involvement in International Measurements

New Report Says America’s Lack of Attention to International Education Studies Has Impeded Student Improvement

While other developed nations benefit by regularly comparing, or “benchmarking,” their educational performance and practices against each other, the United States largely ignores the world’s useful lessons in improving education, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, DC nonprofit policy organization advocating high school reform. The report also provides recommendations to the U.S. Department of Education for immediately increasing participation in international comparisons that could boost student performance.

Short Sighted: How America’s Lack of Attention to International Education Studies Impedes Improvement notes that overall U.S. student performance on international comparisons is poor and continues to decline, emphasizing the urgency for the United States to examine what it could learn from other countries. For example, in the 1960s, the United States produced the highest high school completion rates among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member nations, but by 2005, it slipped to eighteenth out of twenty-three OECD member nations with available data. And in college graduation rates, America has fallen from second to fifteenth since 1995.

“U.S. Olympic teams don’t ignore the gains made by their competitors;” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, “nor can the United States ignore international education gains. In a world where our nation’s ability to continue winning the global economic competition is so closely tied to the educational preparation of our citizens, the United States cannot afford to bury its head in the sand and ignore the innovations in education that occur outside of its borders.

“The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), developed by the world’s thirty most developed countries, is a respected tool for policymakers at all levels to learn from the highest-performing nations,” Wise continued. “For the last several years, the United States’ failure to take full advantage of PISA’s many lessons may well result in lost opportunities to improve student performance.”

In 2003, American fifteen-year-olds ranked nineteenth out of twenty-nine OECD member nations in science. On the most recent test, in 2006, Americans dropped to twenty-first. A similar trend is evident in mathematics, where fifteen-year-olds in the United States ranked twenty-third in 2003 but slipped to twenty-fifth out of thirty OECD member nations by 2006.

“Americans have a right to know how U.S. students stack up compared to their international peers and must demand that their political leaders take immediate action,” Wise said. “But the American public has been largely left in the dark about lackluster American performance on PISA and other international comparisons over the last few years. Now that President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have called for higher educational standards that reflect international demands, there is a wonderful opportunity to shine a spotlight on this issue and bring it to the forefront of the educational debate.”

The brief offers six recommendations for how the U.S. Department of Education (ED) can boost the nation’s involvement in international benchmarking and increase the visibility of American students’ performance. Specifically, ED should:

  1. immediately undertake a comprehensive analysis that (a) reviews its current policies and participation in international comparisons, (b) lists the ongoing international educational studies that have numerous nations’ involvement, (c) evaluates the possible benefits of participating for each study, and (d) prepares recommendations for Secretary Arne Duncan about what changes should be made;
  2. immediately create an advisory group that reviews current participation in international comparisons and submit recommendations to Secretary Duncan and the Institute for Education Sciences about future participation;
  3. commit to full U.S. participation in all major international benchmarking opportunities, including the OECD’s future education studies;
  4. consult with the OECD, the National Governors Association, and the Council of Chief State School Officers on how best to provide opportunities for states to participate in future OECD studies;
  5. work with the OECD to ensure that administrative errors do not compromise the release of future PISA results; and
  6. consult with organizations in fields such as education and business to create an ongoing public awareness and interest in the importance of international education comparisons.

The brief also envisions a larger role for the U.S. Congress in the international benchmarking process and the performance of American students. It calls on Congress to:

  1. appropriate the full amounts necessary to participate fully in the PISA benchmarking and evaluation process as well as other relevant international benchmarking studies; and
  2. conduct periodic oversight hearings regarding the nation’s international education performance, efforts underway to learn from other nations’ success, and actual application of international practices that could benefit education in the United States.

Short Sighted: How America’s Lack of Attention to International Education Studies Impedes Improvement is available here.

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The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington-based policy, research, and advocacy organization that works to make every child a graduate, prepared for postsecondary education and success in life. For more information about the Alliance for Excellent Education, please visit

Categories: International Comparisons

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