Concern about falling behind internationally is one of America’s most popular education anxieties. This week’s visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao — plus all the chatter about Amy Chua’s new book on why Chinese-style “tiger moms” raise more successful children than Americans do — serve as uncomfortable reminders that the kids in Shanghai did astronomically well on a set of international tests released last month, whereas U.S. kids came in 17th.
That makes us sound pretty lame. But the extremists at both ends of the education spectrum — i.e., those telling us international tests are meaningless and those claiming the scores are a sure sign that the sky is falling — are wrong. Here are five reasons why you should ignore the hysterical commentary (followed by a commonsense look at what you should care about instead).