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The scores are in from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, which, every three years, tests 15-year-olds from the world’s most advanced countries.

For the United States, the report card is dismal. The U.S. ranking has fallen to 17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math.

Florida, one of America’s diverse mega-states, competed separately in the PISA exam, and scored below the U.S. average.

In the academic Olympics, the American superpower is a mediocrity.

Ranked one through seven in test scores in reading, science and math were Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong-China, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau-China, Japan. Also well ahead of the United States is Vietnam.

By and large, Western Europe has moved out in front of us and our close competitors are the Slovak Republic and Russian Federation.

Fifteen-year-olds in two ex-Soviet republics, Estonia and Latvia, also posted grades in math and science superior to those of America’s young.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls the PISA test scores a “brutal truth” that “must serve as a wake-up call” for the country.

Excuse me, but how many wake-up calls do we need?

In October 1957, we got our first when the brutalitarian and backward superpower built by Josef Stalin beat America into space.

Two months later, our answer to Sputnik, a three-pound satellite, was to be launched by a Vanguard rocket from Cape Canaveral, to get us back in the race. It got four feet off the ground, when the rocket exploded.

Egg all over our face, we were rescued from national humiliation by the Redstone Arsenal rocket crew of Wernher von Braun who built the V-2s that had rained down on London. Von Braun put an 80-pound Explorer into orbit, and we were back in the game.

While the first manned space flight was made by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, America, under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, took command and put an American on the moon in July 1969.

Meanwhile, the country was on fire over the issue of education.

In LBJ’s Great Society legislation in 1965 came the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which poured enormous amounts into our pubic schools.

In 1983, came “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform,” the report of President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. Conclusion: America’s schools, even then, thirty years ago, were failing the nation.

Under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, we got another surge in spending with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

How can a lack of money explain our declining test scores when America continues to spend more per capita on education than almost any other country? Yet, the more we spend, the lower the test scores we get back in global competition?

Some insist the persistence of poverty in an affluent America is the cause of these declining test scores.

Yet, have we not fought a 50-year war on poverty since LBJ’s Great Society? And not only have countless trillions of dollars been spent, the poor in America receive benefits of which the world’s poor could only dream.


America’s poor receive free food, free health care and free education for their children from Head Start to K-12. The poor get subsidized housing and subsidized incomes. They are exempt from federal income taxes. State programs and private charities pick up where the feds leave off.

Yet, if poverty explains the dismal performance of America’s students, why are they being lapped by Vietnamese 15-year-olds?

Do the Vietnamese have a higher per capita income than we?

Is there less poverty and more emphasis on education in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City than New York City and Washington, D.C.?

Is home environment behind the disparity in test scores?

Forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock, but for Hispanics it is 53 percent and for African-Americans 73 percent.

Looking again at those PISA test scores, other than East Asia — China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam — hardly any other nation of Southeast or South Asia, the Arab or Muslim world, Africa or Latin America, is in the top forty in academic performance.

And, in these test scores from a diverse world, we can see mirrored the academic performance within our own diverse nation.

Just as East Asians and Europeans excel in the PISA tests, so, too, do Americans of East Asian and European descent dominate test scores and excel in educational achievement, while our Hispanic and African-American students trail.

At top universities like Berkeley, Stanford and in the Ivy League, too, Asian and white Americans are overrepresented in the student bodies.

Yet, Hispanic and African-Americans are more than 30 percent of the U.S. population and 35 percent of those in our public schools.

Increasingly, these minorities will represent the nation in international academic competitions.

Where, then, are the grounds for optimism that we can turn this around?

And if we cannot, ought we not accept the inevitable?

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”

Copyright 2013

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Education, Standardized Tests 
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  1. “Just as East Asians and Europeans excel in the PISA tests, so, too, do Americans of East Asian and European descent dominate test scores and excel in educational achievement, while our Hispanic and African-American students trail.”

    2 points of contention….

    It is not just Americans of “East Asian descenet” (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans) who excel in academic achievement, vietnamese and filipinos as well as south asians (indians, pakistanis, sri lankans, bangladesis, etc.) also excel and are well represented or over represented at colleges, just using americans of “Asian” descent would of been more accurate.

    And why does everybody forget, Hispanics….are of European descent too! Did Spain belong somewhere else other than Europe? Central and South America and even Mexico had other european immigrants as well (germans, italians, etc.) , not in as big numbers, but they still did

    The problem is using such a lump them all together term as Hispanic, it’s like saying Americans (Various European, African, Asian, Native american descent) are a an ethnicity!

    People under the Hispanic umbrella have various degrees of achievement, i.e. Cubans and Colombian immigrants seem particularly sucessful, puerto ricans (when they seem to leave endemic areas of poverty in New York) are getting more sucessful.

    What we should do to get a more accurate picture is to stop using such terms as Hispanic or Latino (mainly only a application to culture) and when we do censuses just saying who is actually of declared amerindian descent (alot of immigrants from central and south america) who are the disadvantaged of these countries and who are the ones that actually need the resources concentrated on.

    Our african americans need to listen to the likes of people like Bill Cosby and similar and start taking a good reflection of their values which got warped by the 60’s 70’s drug hippie culture, which was fun if you’re a privileged white kid, but not if you’re poor, disadvantaged and black and facing a destruction of families and culture. Though there have been many positive improvements and achievements by americans of african descent, there is a long way to go.

    I feel our african americans can be a good indicator of our strength. They are the most american of american as most of their ancestries were resident in the US long before a good number of the americans of european descent were here (immigrants in 1900s) and if we can get them reverse in their culture decline (getting them to chuck the negative aspects like a gloriefied gangsta rap and thug culture, where baby daddies is a common term, but not fathers!) then we know all of american is doing better!

  2. tadzio says:

    “At top universities like Berkeley, Stanford and in the Ivy League, too, Asian and white Americans are overrepresented in the student bodies.” This true only if you count jews as whites. If you separate the two, whites are massively underrepresented and jews are overrepresented to an obscene level. This holds true even if adjusted for college boards scores. Entrance into these elite institutions has been hijacked by an influential Racist minority to the detriment of the nation’s majority that they so hate.

  3. NB says: • Website

    tadzio, what is your source for your claim that “jews are overrepresented to an obscene level…even if adjusted of college boards [sic] scores”? Ron Unz’s “Myth of American Meritocracy” article? There is no evidence that Jews are overrepresented at Harvard in relation to their academic merit, as Unz substantially overestimated the percentage of Jews at Harvard while grossly underestimating the percentage of Jews among high academic achievers; in fact, there is no discrepancy. In addition, Unz’s arguments have proven to be untenable in light of a recent survey of incoming Harvard freshmen conducted by The Harvard Crimson, which found that students who identified as Jewish reported a mean SAT score of 2289, 56 points higher than the average SAT score of white respondents.

    I have posted a critique of Unz’s article here:

    Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman discusses it here:

  4. @Mahaloeveryone In fact, “Hispanics” are largely not of European descent. In the main, they are a hybridized mix of Amerindians and Europeans. This is because “Hispanic” usually refers to Mexicans and Central Americans.

    In contrast, in the case of Cubans, most in this country tend to be of Spanish descent, specifically Galician.

  5. @Avi Marrzanazo
    “In fact, “Hispanics” are largely not of European descent. In the main, they are a hybridized mix of Amerindians and Europeans. This is because “Hispanic” usually refers to Mexicans and Central Americans. ”

    I never said they were largely of European descent, I just said they were of european descent, in reference to what was previously said in the article that seemed to ignore that fact. I do realize the amount of the descents can vary as recent genetic research has shown (i.e. “white” cubans are about 90% or more european as you have also mentioned)

    Being hybridized european and amerindian does not lessen their identification with europeaness (their are plenty of “white” and “black” americans with amerindian ancestry), if anything affirming their “hispanic” or “latino” identity, glorifys the euorpean aspect of their ancestry to the detriment of their other identities(amerinidan, african), which are only useful to them in the (american) aspect of trying to identify as a oppressed group.

    I find the “hispanic/latino” label as clumsy, not useful, just a way for certain interest groups to push their agendas. It’s like getting immigrants from canada and identifying all of them as “Anglos” even if they are amerindian, african, caribbean, asian, and even hybridized european and amerindian (Metis) groups.

    Ideally we should do away with race and talk ancestries/countries of origin and just check all the ones that apply (i.e. continetal or countrywise, european, african, asian, irish, african, nigerian, spanish, mexican, belizean, etc. and especially amerindians whether they’re from here, caribbean, or central and south america should unite as an interest group as they have a major deficit in addressing their needs).

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