This article places the most recent study of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) in historical perspective, reviewing the role of international comparisons in efforts to build public education systems as key institutions of democratic societies. It discusses the findings for the United States, examining differences with other participating countries. It also looks at a paradox. Despite the high priority education has received in the United States in the past two decades, the country underperformed in a number of indicators in the PISA in comparison with many other countries participating in the study. The authors explain the findings as the result of an underlying paradigm to education reform that has given priority to efficiency improvements rather than to educational innovation to increase the relevancy of education in helping students gain the skills necessary in the twenty-first century. The authors argue that these findings underscore the need to give more attention to teacher preparation and to add the voice of the profession to the design and execution of education reform efforts.



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