It's stating the obvious to say that Americans are competitive and like to keep score.
But when it comes to student achievement and academic testing, it's time to examine whether those characteristics may be driving children crazy and becoming counterproductive.
Public officials are test-happy.
In a quest to satisfy voters, combat global competition and fix floundering schools in a nation where education is largely the responsibility of states and school districts, U.S. public officials seized upon standardized tests in order to discern if schools are doing a good job.
The most recent are rankings from the 2009 Programme For International Student Assessment that show that 15-year-old U.S. students placed 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 countries. Even though the scores are higher than those in 2003 and 2006, public officials and educators are wringing their hands—again—because U.S. students ranked behind South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Canada.
Yet American students are working harder than ever before, so hard that some parents and counselors are concerned that high-achieving students are being pushed beyond their limits to utter exhaustion.
A Stanford educator recently pointed out that half of students at the University of California are required to take remedial classes despite arriving at college with great academic records—the result of becoming adept at tests while failing to acquire deeper knowledge.
This means that even if American students top the rankings in test scores, they may not be well educated.
Americans must ponder whether the national focus on testing is diverting schools from fully developing students by helping them identify their strengths, minimize their weaknesses, find a productive path in life and acquire the tools to pursue it.
This kind of education is much, much harder than training kids to take tests that satisfy only what's become an obsession with keeping score.