Losing to China: US students perform poorly on key international test


Results for the latest administration of the Program for International Student Assessment, a key exam given to 15-year-old students worldwide, show poor performance in reading and math among U.S. students, with the Common Core national standards and aligned curriculum a likely significant contributing factor.

The PISA exam tests reading, math, and science. Among the 79 countries where the exam is administered, the top scorers were students in four provinces in China — Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zheijiang.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which oversees the PISA exam, the Chinese students not only outperformed students in all other countries in math and reading, but “the 10% most disadvantaged in these four provinces showed better reading skills than those of the average student in OECD countries, and performed on par with the 10% most advantaged students in some of them.”

“What makes their achievement even more remarkable,” says the OECD, “is that the level of income in these four Chinese regions is well below the OECD average.”

Such results should be concerning to every American given that Communist China’s goal, according to Liu Mingfu, a retired Chinese army colonel and highly influential professor at China’s National Defense University, “is to surpass the United States in overall national power in terms of the economy as well as science and technology.”

Indeed, in comparison, U.S. students’ math scores were not just below the Chinese scores, but behind many other countries, including Portugal, Slovakia, and Lithuania.

In reading, the United States did slightly better, but still scored far below the Chinese. As the New York Times noted, “The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000.”

And unlike the high performance of disadvantaged students in China, the Times pointed out that the “achievement gap between high and low performers [in the U.S.] is widening.”

According to an OECD official quoted by the Times, about one-fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered the reading skills expected of a 10-year-old.

Those students, said the official, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.

The PISA trends mirror the results on the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, America’s so-called report card.

Not only did large majorities of students fail to perform at the proficient level in reading and math on the NAEP exam, but the gap between high-performing and low-performing students widened in places such as California.

In fact, in California, the gap between high and low performing students widened by a full-grade’s worth on the eighth-grade NAEP math test.

There is a possibility that Common Core may have something to do with the widening performance gap between high and low achievers. That’s because the gap has increased since 2012, which was around the time that Common Core was first implemented.

The Times cited a Harvard education professor, who said that the blame lies partly with states and school districts, which did not effectively carry out Common Core, and recommended that low-income students be provided with social workers.


First of all, such apologies for Common Core sound like the old discredited leftist refrain that communism has never succeeded because it has never truly been tried and that all communist catastrophes are the result of poor implementation. Second, remember that the most disadvantaged Chinese students performed as well as the most advantaged students in many countries — and it is a sure thing that those Chinese students were not provided social workers to raise their achievement.

Third, it is simply obvious that Common Core is having a negative impact on U.S. student performance.

Ze’ev Wurman, former senior policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush and one of the most informed critics of Common Core, has observed: “In addition to being mediocre in its academic expectations, Common Core dragged in its unscientific and discredited pedagogy,” such as the “de-emphasis of fluency with arithmetic and number manipulation [in math].”

Pacific Research Institute’s 2018 report “An American Education Agenda” recommends that states should repeal their Common Core standards and replace them with proven standards, such as Massachusetts’s previous state standards, and should enact comprehensive school-choice programs to give parents and their children the opportunity to access better schooling alternatives.

The bottom line: We cannot afford to let China eat our education lunch.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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