National pride is rarely higher than during the Olympic Games, as we cheer on our athletes, regardless of the sport, because they represent America. We want to be #1 in the world, and over the past couple of weeks, Americans have closely monitored how well our teams are performing compared to athletes from other countries.
Just imagine the headlines if our women's gymnastics team ranked 17th in the world, or our men's swimming team ranked 25th. The public--fanned by the media--would be outraged.
Yet consider how American students rank academically: 25th among industrialized nations in mathematics and 17th in science. Where is the outrage?
Competition is a good thing--in business, in sports, and yes, in education. Competition raises the bar and encourages everyone to seek higher levels of achievement. Yet America is woefully shortchanging our students with our acceptance of mediocre academic performance. And the stakes are much higher in education than in sports. How well our students excel academically will affect how successful they are in life and how strong we are as a nation. The American education system is clearly in crisis, but our poor international showing has spurred too little action.
As I write in "The Art of Being Unreasonable," we need to set world-class standards for teaching, learning and operations, empower teachers with support to meet individual student needs, reasonably hold adults responsible for student growth, and make sure adequate resources reach the classroom if we want America's public schools to be worthy of a gold medal.
I join all Americans in taking rightful pride in our athletes. But I also encourage everyone to work to develop another source of national pride, to reform an education system that once was and can be again the envy of every country.
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