Let’s face it. The U.S. is competing with China, and we’re not doing as well as we used to. The Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development released its 2009 Program for International Student Assessment on Tuesday and the news is grim for America. While fifteen-year-olds in Shanghai China ranked top in the world, beating even that stalwart educational powerhouse Singapore, kids in the U.S. didn’t fare too well. They ranked 25th in math and 17th in science among 34 countries. “This should be a massive wake-up call to the entire country,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Then again, one might think that the U.S. is a big country while Shanghai and Singapore are just cities—big cities, mind you, but cities nonetheless. And then, one might also think that the high scores of Silicon Valley were took a hit because of the inevitably lower scores in Mississippi and West Virginia. Perhaps, but a new study shows that even here in Santa Clara County, the dropout rate is increasing. Of the 2009 graduating class in Santa Clara County, one out of every six students dropped out. Only 81.5 percent of students who entered county high schools four years earlier actually graduated. In contrast, only 14.4 that dropped out in the 2007-2008 school year. That means fewer students will get the solid grounding in maths and sciences that will allow us to compete with China. The only comforting news is that the local graduation rate is 3 percentage points higher than the rest of the state, which stands at 78.5.

State Superintendent of School Jack O’Connell is distraught. He says that closing the educational gap in California is “not only a moral or social imperative, but today an economic imperative.” He says that the problem is funding, but critics disagree, saying that the real problem is “an increasing focus on academic achievements.” Then again, isn’t that what schools are all about?
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