Why We're Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students But We Don't

Common Core
June 2009

This study asked a simple question: what can we learn from the
content standards of our international neighbors? The U.S. appears to be
the only economically-advanced nation whose education system's primary
focus is a set of basic skills. By contrast, other countries concentrate
on content, like Archimedes and Shakespeare, and trust that math and
reading skills will be taught through exposure to this material. And
their trust is not misplaced. A host of international assessments reveal
that students in countries that emphasize a broad liberal-arts-style
education over mastery of basic skills tend to learn those basic skills
better than their skills-focused American counterparts. The bulk of this
report consists of case studies of the top scoring nations on PISA.
Particularly revealing are the excerpts from various tests and
standards, including reading samples, images, and graphics. Their common
theme is a focus on knowledge, like historical chronology, famous
passages from literature, and important scientific discoveries. Amongst
the profiles are informative chapters on curriculum narrowing (or,
rather, the absence of it abroad), content specificity, and what
"comprehensive" education means outside the U.S. Ultimately, explains
Common Core President Lynne Munson, these countries could serve as
models for state-level (or, for that matter, national) overhauls of academic standards. Read it here.

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