Arguments for the shortage based on the inadequacy of American education generally begin with the results of standardized tests used in international comparisons . . . But a detailed study of students’ performance on TIMSS as well as on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), another widely reported international comparison test, by B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration and Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., suggests otherwise. “Their point is that the average performance of U.S. students on these comparative international tests is not a meaningful number,” Teitelbaum says. Far from trailing the developed world in science education, as some claim, “on PISA, the U.S. has more high-scoring kids in science than any other country” and nearly as many in the top math category as top-scoring Japan and Korea, Salzman says.
Raising America’s average scores on international comparisons is, therefore, not a matter of repairing a broken educational system that performs poorly overall, as many critiques suggest, but rather of improving the performance of the children at the bottom, overwhelmingly from low-income families and racial and ethnic minorities. This discrepancy, of course, is a vital national need and responsibility, but it does not reflect an overall insufficient supply of able science students.
Put more succinctly, by Eric Weinstein:
The problem with US math & science education is that we became dependent after 1970 on a permanent state of lying about just how bad we are.
(ADDED) I like Josh’s addendum:
Seems more like lying about what kind of bad we are, not how bad.