The launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a major reform in US mathematics and science education. Motivated by that fear, and aided by massive immigration of well-educated people from Britain and elsewhere, we led the world in science and technology until the mid-1970's.
There has been a gradual and unremitting decline ever since. Many fixes have been proposed, and each has worked, in its own way.
Administrators and pundits said that the answer was more parental involvement. We had band and athletic boosters, the PTA, bake sales and the like. Middle-class parents did the homework for their children. In return for this work, they expected rewards, which fueled grade inflation.
Sociologists told us that teachers needed to be less authoritarian, and more nurturing. Students are now friendly with them, so much so that several hundred have been arrested in the past few years for sleeping and partying with them.
Psychologists assured us that the answer was to enhance self-esteem. In a recent study of mathematics achievement, the top 10% of Americans ranked at the 50% mark for South Koreans. However, the Americans rated their own performance as A/B, while the South Koreans rated themselves as C.
Teachers told us that increased pay was the answer. In many local districts, the pay and benefits for teachers exceeds that of college professors.
Education professors told us that the answer was to change teaching methods and curricula. Future teachers now take far more education credits than in the subjects that they will teach, and the teaching has changed so much and so often that we can't even compare student performance with a few years ago.
Politicians tell us that the answer is to reward 'good' teachers, and punish 'bad' ones. This had led to even more grade inflation, and encourages many to either cheat, or leave the profession entirely.