In the news there is a recent study of math and science education internationally. A lot of the stories set a "US improves in math!" tone. The most negative tone I've seen is "US science performance plateaus".
How hard is it to say that math and science education in the US sucks? Because it does. See the image at the end of this post for one reason why.
In the meantime here's an anecdote. I went to school in semi-rural western Pennsylvania. My math education was pretty sound. Our high school had agreements with a local college so that I even got to take college-level calc while in high school. I held up well and I was competitive when I ended up in calc 2 in college.
Science was another matter. I consider myself to be not entirely an idiot, but I was given nothing to work with in high school when it came to science. My physics and chemistry classes were disgusting. My best physics class was taught by an evangelical Christian who sneaked God into class sometimes (without my realizing at the time how wrong that was). My other physics class was taught by someone who didn't even know the subject. I took a standardized college-entrance exam in physics and I think I scored in the 20-something'th percentile even among Americans.
Meanwhile in my computer programming class I was working on ancient iMac G3's (the crayon-colored space ship cube kind) which barely ran a C compiler. I think we used either Borland or Code Warrior; I don't remember, and it doesn't matter because it didn't work. We had to resort to using QBasic in a Windows 95 virtual machine on the Mac's.
Our library had Macintosh Classics (the box-shaped ones from the early 1500's, with tiny little built-in monochrome screens). There was one computer in the library with internet access, which ran only DOS and could only access the national weather service and some library catalogs. I used to go edit AUTOEXEC.BAT to do horrible things.
The priority at the school was clearly not science education. It was sports. We dumped huge amounts of money into a new sports stadium. Cheerleading and swimming were the most important things happening. No one gave the slightest crap whether anyone learned science at that school. And I suffered for it.
If I hadn't been motivated to teach myself how to program in my spare time, where would I have ended up? Even more behind in college than I was? Not in college at all?
Is it any wonder that at college, most of my classes were taught by non-Americans, and a very sizable portion of students were non-American? This in a city NOT known for its diverse international population. People flew in from elsewhere, went to school for 4-8 years and left. Down the street at CMU the American-to-non-American ratio was even more extreme.
The anti-intellectual, anti-science attitude of many Americans is what I detest most about this country. Science is the most important thing that human beings do. Science is what enables modern life. People owe science and scientists more than they could ever imagine. And instead people take it entirely for granted, and spit in the face of science at every turn.
Now, here's something to make you puke up your breakfast. Public acceptance of evolution, by country. I won't post much about this subject because it would be mostly profanities.