Guess what? Merit pay is not the answer to to all the ills of the American educational system. Even more investment will barely make a dent as far as our world rankings. The United States needs a complete overhaul of education, or it is doomed to fail, our kids that is.
Spiraling curricula, constructivist programs like balanced literacy and fuzzy math, piss poor education schools, the lack of content-rich national standards, and yes, a short school year with a short school day that condenses lessons into 45 minutes. The former are what holding us back.
And yes, a cultural problem, which is not easily remedied. Some people favor an argument based on culture when they attempt to explain why minorities in the United States lag behind others in academic performance. The fact is, we have a generalized culture problem, one which does not put a premium on work ethic, parental involvement in their child's education.
We have far too many distractions, and you know what they are. As Americans, we also work more hours than any other industrialized economy, leaving less time for parents to involve themselves in their child's education, so I don't believe it's entirely our fault, but also the way our economy is arranged.
One can obviously write a dissertation on this topic, and I wish I had more time to elaborate on all my points, but these are my feelings.
This is something I've thought about a bit: the cultural question.
It's absolutely the case that Americans are hyper, distracted, and prone to sports mania, which makes it hard to stick to the Kumon regimen.
I for one think these qualities are built in to the population.
The question I always ask myself is whether there's a "teaching" work-around. That is, suppose we developed a science of teaching, as Vicki Snider urges. Or suppose we just handed the system over to Siegfried Engelmann and/or the precision teaching folks.
Could people learn math really, really well in between all the distractions (or along with all the distractions...)?
Could we create a highly efficient form of teaching and learning that compensated, to a significant degree, for our distractibility?
btw, the parents-working-too-many-hours aspect of the problem is part and parcel of the distractibility issue. To the extent that we Americans, being an immigrant population, are simply more hyperactive than Asians (way more), we suffer from distractibility and from "hyperfocus." Which leads directly to over-work when people hyperfocus on work.
Hyperfocus is pretty much the secret of my success, such as it is. (My success, I mean.) When I was in graduate school my then-boyfriend once told me I was like a dog with a stick. Can't remember what sparked that observation, possibly a non-lethal argument.
In any event, he was obviously correct.