Students in the United States are less diligent about pursuing their studies because the country offers them no incentive for doing well in school, said Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Teenagers in Germany, France, Holland, Great Britain, Australia and other industrialized countries know they must have high test scores to get into college, he said. Those who are not college-bound also understand that good high school grades will lead to a job with future advancements and pay stability.American students in the 1990s get no such incentive, Shanker said.
"When I was young my mother would say, `Al, if you don't start doing better in school, you won't get into a good college,' " he explained. "When I tried to tell my children that, they laughed."
Teenagers know that while poor grades won't get them into the nation's most prestigious institutions, there are colleges and universities that will accept them, the education leader said.
Shanker spoke at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics Wednesday.
The AFT is a teachers union that represents educators in both public and higher education across the country.
Shanker suggested that students who do not meet certain testing standards be denied federal loans or grants.
He suggested offering tax incentives to employers who hire 18- and 19-year-olds who may not want to go to college, but have graduated from high school with good grades.
Companies refusing to participate in these programs would pay an additional tax to the government.
"Every other industrialized country does that," Shanker said.