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Failing grades cause for concern

Report cards on America's schools are out, and grades in math, science, history and geography leave lots to be desired. In fact, if a child stumbled into the house with these kinds of marks, a responsible parent would prescribe no television and stiff doses of extra homework as the antidote.

In science and math, American high school seniors scored below students from other countries in recently released test results. Of students in 21 countries tested - not including typically strong-showing Asian nations - U.S. 12th-graders finished ahead of counterparts in only South Africa and Cyprus.Perhaps more of a blow was the failure of top American students, who had taken physics and advanced mathematics, to compare favorably against students from 15 other countries who also had taken accelerated courses. That shattered the myth that top U.S. students in math and science could hold their own against anyone.

Education Secretary Richard Riley fingered easy graduation requirements and a lack of quality teachers with majors and minors in science and mathematics as the problem. That may be true, though there are likely other factors as well, including inadequate math/science offerings and requirements through the middle-school years.

Rather than casting blame, Riley and other national, state and local educational leaders should take this news as a wake-up call and scrutinize curricula and other influences placing American students at a serious disadvantage globally.

In Utah, this discouraging educational news hits at a time when the State Board of Education is considering deleting a state core curriculum rule that all 9th-graders must enroll in science. While the requirement makes squeezing in electives difficult, eliminating it would contribute to the problem of an inferior education in science. That decision should be carefully considered.

It also comes when Utah garnered a "C" grade for its geography and history standards, with one-third of the 50 states flunking out. The study was a follow-up to the 1989 education summit, where governors pledged all students would demonstrate competency in five core subjects by the year 2000.

Utah educators claim the grade is harsh, at least a "B" is deserved. That aside, the reports fuel feelings that public education needs to re-evaluate its effectiveness.