Thank you for correctly noting that (in regards to U.S. student classroom performance) “we should consider the possibility of bad students as well as bad schools.” A tangent to this point is this goodie from a few years back – U.S. students may not perform the best, but they top the list in self-esteem. Watching American Idol tryouts each year reinforces this unfortunate reality.
While there is no shortage of poor teachers and schools, the school-reform narrative focuses too much on delivery. This narrative needs to include how students view their studies because doing so would hopefully point out the rather large elephant in the room — American students have been effectively brainwashed by the college wage premium, even as more and more evidence comes out to refute the notion that college is economically worth it for everyone. In the U.S., high-school performance leads to college acceptance and college performance leads to a supposed “good job.” Too many students are conditioned to shun learning in favor of buying a credential.
A good speaker knows his audience. A good salesman knows his customers. Too many teachers and administrators try to focus on a “more flashy product” without any regard for “who’s buying.”