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Dec 7th, 2010

‘Wake-Up Call’: U.S. Students Trail Global Leaders

Out of 34 countries assessed, U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, 25th in math

Image: Students in a classroom in Arnsberg, Germany
The PISA exam is one of a handful of tests that compare educational levels across nations, and is considered to be the most comprehensive. (Photo credit: Julian Stratenschulte / EPA)

By Christine Armario

December 7, 2010

United States students are continuing to trail behind their peers in a pack of higher performing nations, according to results from a key international assessment.

Scores from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment released Tuesday show 15-year-old students in the U.S. performing about average in reading and science, and below average in math. Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

Those scores are all higher than those from 2003 and 2006, but far behind the highest scoring countries, including South Korea, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, and Canada.

‘Brutal truth’

“This is an absolute wake-up call for America,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The results are extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.”

The PISA exam is one of a handful of tests that compare educational levels across nations, and is considered to be the most comprehensive. The test focuses on how well students are able to apply their knowledge in math, reading and science to real-life situations. Some 470,000 students took the test in 2009 in 65 countries and educational systems, from poor, underdeveloped nations to the most wealthy. …

Grim figures

Between 1995 and 2008, … the United States slipped from ranking second in college graduation rates to 13th, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Paris-based organization that develops and administers the PISA exam. Of 34 OECD countries, only 8 have a lower high school graduation rate. …

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria cited ongoing evaluations, an emphasis on the importance of education, and a curriculum that is relevant to everyday life as reasons for the Chinese success.

He noted that the Chinese scores were strong in all three subject areas.

“That speaks about who is going to be leading tomorrow,” Gurria said. …


China schools U.S. in standardized test (NBC Nightly News, Dec. 7, 2010) — Results from a standardized test taken by 15-year-old students around the world reveal that students in China scored better than anyone else in the world-even after taking the test for the first time. NBC’s Rehema Elis reports.(02:40)

The United States spends more per student, on average, than other countries. In the 2009 PISA study, only Luxembourg spent more per student. The report notes that countries like Estonia and Poland perform at about the same level as the United States, while spending less than half the amount per student. …

Full story


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — December 7, 2009

Afghanistan Price Tag Equals Healthcare Reform Cost

President Obama visits a section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Veterans Day, 2009. (Photo credit: Luke Sharrett / The New York Times)

One year ago today, I reported that for President Barack Obama, the economic cost of his Afghanistan surge plan proved troubling, after he received a private budget memo estimating that an expanded U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan would cost $1 trillion over 10 years, roughly the same as his health care reform plan. 


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — December 7, 2008

Fundamentalist Surge in Iraq

Two years ago today, on Dec. 7, 2008, I reported that from Basra in the south to Irbil in the north, Iraqi activists are trying to counter the rising influence of religious fundamentalists and tribal chieftains who have insisted that women wear the veil, prevented girls from receiving education, and sanctioned killings of women accused of besmirching their family’s honor.

Pearl Harbor
The battleship USS Arizona belches smoke as it topples into the sea during a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (AP photo)

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor survivor (© Lucy Pemoni/AP)

Today, December 7, marks the anniversary of Japan’s 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, prompting America’s entry into World War II.

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