American Schools vs. the World: expensive, unequal, bad at math!


Joerg Sarbach/AP Photo

More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education…

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading and ranks 21st in science and 17th in reading…

On average, 13 percent of students scored at the highest or second highest level on the PISA test, making them “top performers.” Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report…

The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S., spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000. The PISA report notes that, among OECD countries, “higher expenditure on education is not highly predictive of better mathematics scores in PISA.”

Much like health care, Americans who believe nothing counts better than dollars probably still believe we have the best education in the world – regardless of test results, in spite of diminishing GDP marching downhill in parallel to PISA scores.

In fact, it’s becoming fashionable on a couple of fronts to reject test scores like these. Aside from old-fogies fearful of furriners, the teaching infrastructure from the NEA to bloated bureaucratic structures won’t agree to any streamlining – even if we try to copy the Finnish model placing teachers into the upper pay scale of education and employment.

The grade school I attended had over 600 pupils K-8, 18 teachers, 1 janitor, a school nurse, 1 principal and a secretary. What does the employment roll look like in anything comparable in your town or city?

My school was typical of the several in a medium-sized New England factory town. Last time I checked on Albuquerque, New Mexico, the number of folks on the payroll of the city’s school board was one employee for every student [updated].

Yes, this is one of the easiest hot buttons to push on my brain. Because I received a pretty good education – supplemented by what my family came up with for my sister and me via books they bought and the neighborhood Carnegie library. Over the 9 years of that K-8 school, we had exactly 3 dropouts. And they were considered an anomaly. Ne’er-do-wells who only sat there waiting to be old enough to quit.

RTFA. Not too long for all the details and categories included. Think about it. I hope you get pissed off enough to apply pressure to the sensitive parts of your local politicians.

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