Nearly half of the public schools in the US do not meet the standards set by the federal government.
"The dominant form has been multiple choice question..[which] is an over-emphasis on memorisation and [finding] a wanted answer rather than really thinking, and regurgitation."
- Monty Neil, National Center for Fair & Open Testing
Recent studies show that US students are average or below average in reading, and science and mathematics, when compared to other nations.
Around 25 per cent of Americans who start high school do not graduate, and that is below the rate of most other developed nations.
Despite all of this, education has not been a key issue in presidential campaign speeches.
What little the Republicans say is focused on getting the federal government out of public education.
Barack Obama, the US president who made education a key issue in his 2007 campaign now seems to have diverted his attention elsewhere.
"The difference between us and Europeans and other parts of the world…[is] that they were dreamy and thoughtful, we were shallow but we got things done."
- Anthony Carnevale, Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce
Then there is university education. The number of college graduates are increasing but not fast enough to keep up with workforce demands.
The ratio of college-educated adults being hired is slightly below that of other developed countries.
The poor performance of American students led to the last major overhaul of education when George Bush, the former US president, introduced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. Many regard that to be a failure.
Joining the discussion with presenter Anand Naidoo on Inside Story: US 2012 are guests: Anthony Carnevale from Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce; Monty Neil who runs the National Center for Fair & Open Testing; and Bethany Little, who helped write the No Child Left Behind Act and now runs a non-profit organisation called America Achieves which supports efforts to improve education.
"I think that like a lot of other things in American politics...this [education] has become more and more polarised and has allowed a lot of people to ignore the real economic challenge in question."
- Bethany Little, managing partner, America Achieves
TUITION COSTS IN THE US:
- Public universities - averaging more than $12,000 a year
- Private universities - averaging more than $31,000 a year
- Analysts say US students owe more than $1 trillion in loans
- Many US students are returning to university because of unemployment