Increasing global commerce and competition provides much of the fuel that drives the call for education reform. Many more nations are industrializing and competing in the global market. The nations with the best minds and best education will lead the world economically. When researchers compare the performance of American students to their international counterparts, the United States scores low compared to other industrialized nations. In a frequently quoted study, 13‐year‐olds in Korea and Taiwan scored highest in math and science exams. Thirteen‐year‐olds in the United States scored near the bottom of industrialized nations.
Experts point to parental attitudes and school systems to explain the differences. Asian parents maintain far higher expectations of their children, push them harder, and more often credit their children's success to “hard work.” American parents, on the other hand, generally harbor lower expectations, become satisfied with performance more quickly, and often credit their children's success to “talent.”
School systems also differ. In France and England, public schools provide preschool to 3‐year‐old children. The Japanese school year can run 45 to 60 days longer than the average American school year, with much shorter breaks. Most Japanese students also attend juku, or “cram school,” after school, where they study for several more hours with tutors to review and augment the day's schoolwork. Fierce competition exists because not all students can get into the universities, and getting into the best universities secures the student's and the family's future. Although Japanese students may out perform American ones, critics point to the high suicide rate and other social ills associated with the Japanese system.