Education Policy Experts Sound Alarm Over America’s Ability To Compete

Friday, December 19, 2008Printer-friendly version


Christopher Cashman, NGA, 202-624-7787

Kara Schlosser, CCSSO, 202-336-7034

Sandy Boyd, Achieve, 202-419-1540

Benchmarking for Success Cover

WASHINGTON– Underscoring the link between a world-class education and a sound U.S. economy, leading education experts today issued a report offering sweeping recommendations to internationally benchmark educational performance.

The report, "Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-class Education" released by the International Benchmarking Advisory Group, provides states a roadmap for benchmarking their K-12 education systems against those of top-performing nations. The report explains the urgent need for action and outlines what states and the federal government must do to ensure U.S. students receive a world-class education that provides expanded opportunities for college and career success. The Advisory Group was convened by three of the nation's leading education policy organizations – the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve, Inc. – and consists of governors, state commissioners of education, representatives from the business community, researchers, former federal officials and current state and local officials.

International benchmarking will help state policymakers identify the qualities and characteristics of education systems that best prepare students for success in the global marketplace. Understanding these intricacies will provide state leaders the insights necessary to ensure U.S. students are receiving a world-class education and provide students with expanded opportunities for college and career success.

"We are now living in a world without borders, and in order to maintain America's competitive edge into the future we need students who are prepared to compete not only with their American peers, but with students from all across the globe for the jobs of tomorrow," said Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, co-chair of the Advisory Group.

"The time is now – we must ensure that our students are prepared to compete and innovate in the 21st century," said Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, co-chair of the Advisory Group. "Benchmarking for Success is a call to action and provides a clear path to follow."

The Advisory Group identified five transformative steps American education needs to undergo to produce more globally competitive students:

  1. Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12;
  2. Leverage states' collective influence to ensure textbooks, digital media, curricula and assessments are aligned to internationally benchmarked standards and draw on lessons from high-performing nations;
  3. Revise state policies for recruiting, preparing, developing and supporting teachers and school leaders to reflect the "human capital" practices of top-performing nations and states around the world;
  4. Hold schools and systems accountable through monitoring, interventions and support to ensure consistently high performance, drawing upon international best practices; and
  5. Measure state-level education performance globally by examining student achievement and attainment in an international context to ensure that students are receiving the education they need to compete in the 21st century economy.

"The world will always recognize talent, no matter where it resides. To be globally competitive and ensure long term economic growth, all U.S. students need an internationally benchmarked college- and career-ready education," said Craig Barrett, Chairman of the Board at Intel Corporation. "We must do better for our students. They need strong content knowledge, especially in mathematics and science, critical thinking, problem solving and communications skills to innovate and create solutions for the complex challenges of the 21st century."

International benchmarking is crucial for the United States to remain competitive on a global scale. The U.S. is losing its historic edge in educational attainment and international assessments routinely show America behind other nations. In the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) released earlier this month, U.S. eighth graders were significantly outscored by peers in five nations in mathematics and nine nations in science. The U.S. has not made progress on racial achievement gaps since 1999. As recently as 1995, America still tied for first in the percentage of college-age people who obtain a bachelor’s degree; however, by 2006, the country had dropped to 14th. That same year the United States had the highest college dropout rate of 19 industrialized countries.

In addition to the actions above, the report reiterates the importance of a strong state-federal partnership for improving U.S. competitiveness and offers suggestions for how the federal government can support and incentivize states’ international benchmarking efforts. The Advisory Group's expertise and experience helped identify the need for international comparisons and provided guidance for benchmarking state education system practices in areas such as standards, accountability, educator workforce and assessments. The Advisory Group is also co-chaired by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Craig Barrett, chair of the board at Intel Corporation.

Personal Statements from Members of the International Benchmarking Advisory Group

"The report provides compelling evidence for why states must further accelerate their efforts to improve K-12 education. I am committed to taking the necessary steps to ensure Rhode Island students can compete with the best in the world." --Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri

"Massachusetts' recent results on TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) show that not only is international benchmarking important but that it is possible for our students to achieve at the same levels or higher than their peers around the world. Aiming for anything less than the strongest educational outcomes for all children is a disservice to our students, our states, and the nation." --Mitchell D. Chester

"Though America's belated moves toward international benchmarking and 'common' state standards face many perils--done wrong, they could reignite "culture wars" and sacrifice vital U.S. curricular values on the altar of nebulous skills--this is tremendously important initiative. That it's happening outside the federal government avoids some hazards. Now the partner organizations must move expeditiously but wisely through those that remain. I applaud their willingness to do so." --Chester E. Finn, Jr.

"I heartily endorse Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education. Noteworthy is its strong argument for establishing benchmarks that are competitive internationally and its clear focus on increased expectations for students and educators. I am pleased to be associated with this report and look forward to the conversations that will result from the publication in the coming weeks and months." --Dwight D. Jones

"There is nothing more important to the success of every child, to the prosperity of our nation, and to the strength of our democracy then ensuring that we have a world-class education system. As this report makes clear, building this system requires sustained state vision and leadership, informed by best practice from across the globe. Our nation and our children compete and collaborate on the world stage, and so must we as education leaders." --Richard W. Riley

"As someone who has done an extensive amount of international comparative research, I strongly endorse the proposed notion of helping states to do international benchmarking as proposed in this well written document." --William H. Schmidt

"In the global economy, it is the world's best performing education systems, not simply improvement by national standards, that has become the yardstick for educational success. OECD's three-yearly PISA assessments offer states and nations the analytical tools to judge the relative strengths and weaknesses of their education systems in the light of what the best performing education systems show can be achieved in terms of educational quality, equity and efficiency." --Andreas Schleicher

"As never before, American education must prepare students for a world where the opportunities for success require the ability to compete and collaborate on a global scale. Countries around the world, but particularly in Asia, are massively expanding and reforming their school and higher education systems to enable them to participate in the global knowledge economy. We need to understand what is happening and renew and reinvent our own education system for a new era." --Vivien Stewart

International Benchmarking Advisory Group Members

Governor Janet Napolitano, Arizona, co-chair

Governor Sonny Perdue, Georgia co-chair

Craig Barrett, Chair of the Board, Intel, co-chair

Steven A. Ballmer, Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft Corporation

Don Carcieri, Governor, Rhode Island

Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Education, Massachusetts Department of Education

Christopher Edley, Jr., Dean and Professor of Law, University of California-Berkeley

Chester E. Finn, Jr., President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Beverly L. Hall, Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools

Kati Haycock, Director, Education Trust

James B. Hunt, Jr., Chairman, Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy

Dwight Jones, Commissioner of Education, Colorado Department of Education

Tim Kaine, Governor, Virginia

Janet Murguía, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Council of La Raza

Thomas Payzant, Professor of Practice, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Charles B. Reed, Chancellor, California State University

Richard W. Riley, Former U.S. Secretary of Education

Andreas Schleicher, Head of the Indicators and Analysis Division, Directorate for Education, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

William H. Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University

Vivien Stewart, Vice President for Education, Asia Society

Phillip Uri Treisman, Executive Director, The Charles A. Dana Center, the University of Texas at Austin

Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

View the press event video.


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Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association (NGA) is the collective voice of the nation's governors and one of Washington, D.C.'s most respected public policy organizations. Its members are the governors of the 50 states, three territories and two commonwealths. NGA provides governors and their senior staff members with services that range from representing states on Capitol Hill and before the Administration on key federal issues to developing and implementing innovative solutions to public policy challenges through the NGA Center for Best Practices. For more information, visit visit

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public. Visit

Created by the nation's governors and business leaders, Achieve is a bipartisan, non-profit organization that helps states raise academic standards, improve assessments and strengthen accountability to prepare all young people for postsecondary success. At the 2005 National Education Summit, Achieve launched the American Diploma Project (ADP) Network, a coalition that has grown to 34 states, educating nearly 85 percent of public school students in the United States. The ADP Network is committed to aligning high school expectations with the demands of college, career and life. To learn more about Achieve, visit