Education at a Glance 2006
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
September 12, 2006
Reading the OECD's Education at a Glance report--which compares the world's education systems across a wide range of indicators--has become a painful annual rite for education policy wonks in the United States, and this year is no different. U.S. math scores continue to disappoint, as American 15-year-olds ranked 24th out of twenty-nine countries participating in the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment. And the news doesn't get any rosier. Although the U.S. is still near the top of educational attainment levels among 45- to 54-year-olds, the data for 25- to 34-year-olds suggest a reversal of American dominance. Among this younger cohort, secondary and tertiary graduation rates in the U.S. have stagnated even as the numbers in most Asian and European countries continue to rise sharply. In fact, Korea, Japan, and a few northern European countries have already eclipsed the U.S. in graduation rates, and others are closing in quickly. Furthermore, the number of college students in China and India, although still low as a proportion of total population, has risen dramatically in absolute terms. Between 1994 and 2005, college enrollment in China doubled, while in India it grew by 51 percent. China's 4.4 million graduates now dwarfs the E.U.'s 2.5 million. This should worry Americans, the report says, because the growth of the world's developing economies, along with technology's "flattening of the world," will drastically increase competition for high-skilled workers. No longer will the globe's most perspicacious brains drain directly into the United States. The report also notes that East Asian countries have handled achievement gaps much more effectively than the U.S. Whereas more than a quarter of U.S. students fail to reach baseline proficiency levels in math, East Asia's rates hover around 10 percent, a difference the OECD attributes mostly to the region's success (and our failure) in mitigating socio-economic inequalities. The U.S. does dominate in one indicator, though--per-pupil spending. The $12,000 per child spent on average (an average of primary through tertiary education) places the U.S. second among nations surveyed. A dubious honor, to be sure: we pour the most money into our schools and still end up with middling results. You can see it for yourself here (purchase or subscription required).