A plurality of U.S. voters, 46 percent, believes that the nation is behind other countries when it comes to providing programs for children to get ahead, according to a recent poll conducted jointly by the Center for the Next Generation and the Center for American Progress.

The partnership also released a report comparing U.S. student achievement with global competition, finding that China and India are among countries investing more into their educational systems.

Part of the report analyzed test scores of 15-year-olds from the Program for International Student Assessment, which placed the U.S. 14th out of 34 for reading and 25th in math literacy.

Filtering the results for reading test scores of students in the richest school districts, the U.S. would score first in the world. Among white students, the U.S. would be third.

"We obviously have a huge problem when it comes to racial and economic disparity issues with regards to the very basic reading skills in the country," said Ann O'Leary of the Center for the Next Generation, a California-based non-partisan education organization, and a co-author of the report.

The good news, she noted, is that schools in some states are succeeding at educating their students, pointing to Massachusetts and New Jersey.

"We do know how to do this, and we should look at states that are effectively doing it and recognize that there are lessons," she said.

These issues highlight the importance of a renewed national commitment to education reform, especially as global competition increases.

As China and India more than doubled their world economic inputs between 1980 and 2011, the U.S. share fell from 25 percent to 19 percent, according to the report. The authors argue that the key to strengthening the U.S. economy is to create a strong workforce, which starts with education.

The report suggests an improved U.S. workforce requires setting new ambitious--but realistic--national goals that would

  • Better prepare students to meet educational standards
  • Invest more in early childhood learning and encourage parental involvement
  • Improve teacher quality

Part of the issue is surviving the "in-fighting" that resulted from No Child Left Behind and a lack of federal investment and commitment, O'Leary said.

"I think it's incredibly important that we not lose sight of what No Child Left Behind was trying to do, that it was trying to ensure that every student in our country can be proficient in reading and math," she said, later adding, "We still have a very long way to go."

This article is part of our Next America: Higher Education project, which is supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation.

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