My opinions may not carry much currency because they're purely anecdotal. I still believe the US education system is one of the best in the world but at the same time I think our sometimes lack-luster education and performance results are far more culturally based than anyone gives it credit. Growing up as a US-born child of an immigrant family may give me a very biased perspective but I use it all the time nonetheless. My story is typical for many immigrants, it's practically a cliche. My parents didn't know English and came to the US with $400 in their pocket in the early 80s. Yes, we were on welfare, yes we collected food stamps, yes my family took terrible low skill and low earning jobs like cleaning, harvesting, and the like, yes we grew up in the inner city being the 1 of 2 Caucasian families in the entire neighborhood, yes we had 3 generations living in one household, and yes English was not my first language.
But we climbed the *#!@ out of there as fast as we could, because that's why we came to the US: to do well. We came with ambitions, with the belief that education was one thing the "man", whether it's a Soviet government or oppressive oligarchy, could not take away from you. Not doing well in school simply was not an option. My mother get her degree and my father got a decent job at a factory. While my parents certainly did well for themselves, the next generation, like myself, we did even better. I can say from my limited exposure to the education system, at least here in NY, is that very, very, very few of my classmates had the same ambitions. In fact, most would have seen me as being aggressively competitive but in my eyes and my parents I was only allowed to see myself as still not trying hard enough. I admit that half of my class mates were brighter than me, but I'm sorry to say that few of them tried half as hard nor did as well.
If every kid had that ambition you'd have to be scared of what the US could do instead of can't do. Unfortunately it's my observation that many kids *and* their adult parents here in the US lack any self control. They are far too wrapped up in finding the next source of entertainment than setting up a future for themselves, family, and country. Be it TV, alcohol, music, fame, partying, drugs, games, and sports (yes, I said sports, let your verbal abuse fly!). There's nothing wrong with any of those things are just fine per se, as long as they're done in moderation.