Re: Are American Students Behind?

by Carol Iannone

I assume that there is support for what Robert and others have said, that America’s overall educational standings are depressed in worldwide comparison because of the lagging educational performance of minorities. The problem of that lagging performance is treated even more comprehensively in Robert Weissberg’s new book, Bad Students, Not Bad Schools. But there is also something of an anomaly.

Blacks from Africa, the Caribbean, and other places, and their native-born offspring, do better in the U.S. than native blacks and their offspring, and are often the recipients of the affirmative action that was supposed to ameliorate the condition of American-born blacks descended from the slavery and Jim Crow eras. Perhaps that is attributable to the residue of colonial education in these places — more disciplined, more focused on basics, more content-rich, and probably less given to ed-school follies. I have noticed this in students I have had from Jamaica and similar places. Another factor may be the immigrant mentality that is more oriented to success and finds little resonance in ghetto culture.

Regarding America lagging in math scores, though, couldn’t that have something to do with the decline in science and math education in our country? I remember a few years back when Austrian university graduates were recruited to teach math in New York City public schools. I’m assuming that was because of a shortage of Americans to do the teaching. Moreover, one of the young Austrians commented that back in Austria certain of his American students would not have been expected to take advanced math at all, which suggests that other countries might group more capable students into more demanding courses.