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Why American Education Fails

And How Lessons From Abroad Could Improve It

Pastor Charles Hudson walks through a hallway of the Madison School, where Hudson worked with the anti-violence organization Bondage Busters, in Youngstown, Ohio November 21, 2009. Brian Snyder / Reuters

In his landmark 1973 book, The Coming of Post-industrial Society, the sociologist Daniel Bell heralded the United States' transition from a labor-intensive economy that produced goods to a knowledge-based one geared toward providing services. No longer could success be achieved through manual, assembly-line work; it would require advanced skills and creativity. At least since then, American politicians and pundits have regularly stressed that education holds the key to the country's future. Everyone seems to agree that good schools are prerequisites for broad economic prosperity, individual social mobility, and a healthy civil society in which informed voters engage in the public issues of the day.

Although no one disputes the value of education, how the country should improve it is fiercely contested. Every few years, along comes a new idea to save American schools, be it enforcing standards, opening charter schools, providing vouchers for private education, or paying teachers based on their

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