Archie Bleyer

My Voice

About the author

Archie Bleyer is a clinical research professor at Oregon Health & Science University and lives in Bend. My Voice columns reflect the views of the author only.

My Voice columns should be 500-700 words. Submissions should include a portrait-type photograph of the author. Authors also should include their full name, age, occupation and relevant organizational memberships.

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V ietnam, Wales, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Singapore, Scotland, Russia, Portugal, Poland, Northern Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Malta, Macao (China), Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, Korea, Japan, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Iceland, Hungary, Hong Kong (China), Germany, France, Finland, Estonia, England, Denmark, Czech Republic, Chinese Taipei, Canada, B-S-J-G (regions of China), Belgium, Austria and Australia are countries and regions whose students outperformed our students in mathematics when last evaluated by the Program for International Student Assessment, two years ago, in 2015.

In science the list was Vietnam, Wales, Switzerland, Slovenia, Singapore, Scotland, Portugal, Poland, Northern Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Macao, Korea, Japan, Ireland, Hong Kong, Germany, Finland, Estonia, England, Denmark, Chinese Taipei, Canada, B-S-J-G (China), Belgium and Australia.

In reading, they were the same listed above for science, plus France and Sweden but not Vietnam, Switzerland or China.

In problem-solving, which was last evaluated in 2012, the places exceeding the United States were United Kingdom, Singapore, Netherlands, Macao, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Finland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Chinese Taipei, Canada and Australia.

I list these for an obvious reason — most of them are considerably less socio-economically advantaged than the United States and many have less-formalized educational systems.

Moreover, since 2000, when PISA began tracking the performance of students in the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, our 15-year-olds have average reading scores that have declined steadily when compared to other countries and average mathematic scores that improved in the early 2000s but not since 2009, with more than half of all OECD countries with better scores. The only score that has relatively improved is science, and yet, the average score in more than two-thirds of the OECD countries was better than ours.

Even worse, there are non-OECD countries with much lower socioeconomic status that have better average performance of their students than we do. But what to make of all this?

The implications are numerous, beginning with the rise of popularism in the United States that has resulted from an electorate with decreasing ability to recognize lies, hyperbole, false promises and unrealistic statements, to be able to judge fact from fiction, read with comprehension, respect science, calculate accurately the impact of their convictions and evaluate political assertions objectively. We have become increasingly unable to attract and elect unifying, capable, world-respected leaders.

Other nations regard us with less admiration than they once did. Our workforce cannot, as Thomas Friedman and William Faulkner have eloquently described, keep up with the capabilities and ability to retrain workers in other countries. The workforce talent discrepancy accounts for much of the outsourcing of our manufacturing and productivity. We have one of the world’s highest youth suicide rates, and it’s getting steadily worse, particularly in adolescents who, along with their parents, don’t know how to escape personal deterioration.

So, the question is, what are we going to do about our continuing academic, objectivity and judgment decline? We can blame our education system, but we must first examine our culture. It starts with parenting and the values and skills parents have to instill, including academic pursuit, in their children.

Parents are a child’s first teacher and have throughout each week far more time to teach than school teachers have. Until parents accept the need to be and to become their children’s primary teachers, improvements in our formal education system will always be limited, and we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.