America's schools are doing a poor job of preparing students for the work force.
The American Federation of Teachers, in a study of three European educational-testing systems, says students in France, Germany and Scotland reach higher levels of achievement, and do so earlier, than U.S. students.
"The harsh truth is that the United States currently has the worst school-to-work system in the industrialized world," said a statement accompanying the report, which was released Tuesday.
The union represents about 875,000 public school teachers and other education workers.
The report notes that the United States has the largest number of university graduates in the world, but it raises concerns about the education given the 75 percent of U.S. students who do not graduate from college.
Federation president Albert Shanker said the report shows that large numbers of average achievers can get a "solid academic background" in the lower grades.
It indicates U.S. schools are concentrating on preparing students for college and ignoring those who will be seeking jobs:
"American high schools are still oriented toward the college-bound. There is no systematic mechanism for moving young people into the work force."
Educators in the three European countries "understand this is an essential foundation for all later learning, whether it's academic or vocational," Shanker said.
The report says that in France, 60 percent of ninth-graders pass tests that show a grasp of basic academics. In Germany, 69 percent reach or surpass the standards of a national examination. And in Scotland, about two-thirds pass a national exam.
No comparable results are available for U.S. students, because there is no national curriculum or testing system.
Students in Europe "are motivated to work hard because they see a direct relationship between their performance . . . and the options that will be available to them after they complete their compulsory education," the report said.
In contrast, studies show U.S. employers pay little attention to school achievement when hiring students who don't go to college.