A recent report card from the OCED has found that American 15-year-olds were 25th out of 34 countries in math, and mid-tabled in science and reading, despite spending more dollars per student than all developed countries other than Switzerland.
But now a crowd of new teaching initiatives are looking to push American students back up the rankings in innovative ways. And one, through building hybrid electric cars, has proven so successful that a school based entirely around electric car engineering is about to be launched in Philadelphia, writes Michael J. Coren at Co. Exist.
"School should be about kids solving real problems," says Simon Hauger, a Philadelphia-born engineer and teacher, during a 2010 talk at the PopTech conference in Maine.
"I was amazed. These [students] were brilliant, smarter than engineers at GE. But when we sat in classroom they were ready to pull their eyeballs out. Stick them in the shop, and they were ready to solve very complex problems."
Hauger took his high school class and turned them into a winning electric go-kart racing team, collecting EV race victories over MIT, Cornell, and multi-million-dollar companies.
The Hybrid X Team's first vehicle, an electric go-kart, was built during an after-school program. The next year, the students refitted an electric Jeep to win the Philadelphia science fair, after which a string of EV race cars followed, writes Coren.
The team's most recent accomplishment, an EVX GT sports car for the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, led them to being invited to the White House.
These successes had led Hauger to want to start a school dedicated to EV development. The Sustainability Workshop is a privately funded initiative that, by 2013, will become a charter school or part of the Philadelphia School District, if it proves to be a hit.
The Workshop is currently teaching 29 seniors from three Philadelphia high schools, using "real-world problems" like energy efficiency and climate change, helping the initiative develop ways to reduce their school's energy profile and boosting school bus route efficiency.
"This idea of multiple intelligences really started to come to life for me," says Hauger.
"One of the things about project-based education is that people who support that don't support basic skills. It's quite to the contrary. We've seen amazing basic skills develop: public speaking , deep problem solving, and what I consider essential skills. It's really about finding what kids' interests and passions are, and tapping into that."