Downfall of the American Education System?

On President Trump’s campaign page there are several inflammatory remarks about our education system in the United States with statistics to make everything appear true.  I’ve been hearing this general trend in the media as well – checkout the Huffington Post and New Yorker.  Agreeing wEducationith the assertion that our education system is not up to par with the developed world and we should move to privatize the system as the solution.  So I’ve delved into those sources and here is a summary of what I’ve found.

Let’s start with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) they use several tools to measure reading, math, and science skills in 4th grade, 8th grade, and 15 year-old students.  According to 2009 data from PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) the United States was ranked 14th out of 34 countries. Our reading, math, and science scores for 15 year-olds were 500, 487 & 502, respectively.  That compares to the averages of 493, 496, & 501 for the 34 countries studied by the OECD.  

Let’s go on to compare the 2009 data with 2012 data provided by the same NCES (National Center for Educational Statistics) [all governments love their acronyms]. The numbers for 2012 in reading, math, and science are 498, 481 & 497, respectively.  With the margins of error for the data there is no statistical significance in the drop.  But it does merit a mention that there is a drop across the board.  Every category decreased with the most largest decrease in math.  We shall see if the trend continues in the coming years.

Here is another source from Pearson – they have the overall ranking of the US up from 2012 to 2014, from 17th to 14th in a comparison of 40 countries.  But when you look at the cognitive skills category America has decreased from 11th to 14th.  While our educational attainment score Education Word Cloudwent from 21st to 20th in the same study.  The studies uses a weighted average on 4th and 8th grade students to calculate their data. So we are seeing a similar loss in subject matter material over a more current date range.

Here is one last report, this time from the United Nations – Human Development Report; they have a value called the Education Index.  It is basically a measure of the expected years of schooling for a country and the mean years of schooling accomplished.  Ta-da! The United States is ranked 5th out of 187 countries. With an Education Index of 0.890 (1.0 would be the best you can get).

So what does all this mean?  Why are we pretty great at retaining students through the life of their schooling years, but not so great at increasing their cognitive skills?  I personally think it is great that we can keep students in school!  However, it is not so great that they aren’t learning very well.  I now think the inflammatory language over our failing education system from the media and President Trump is justified.  We seem to be staying in school longer with less benefit for our students.  Is privatizing the education system the answer?  Here are a couple sources for and against privatization.  I’ll examine them and a few more in the coming weeks for another post. Stay tuned!

American Federation for Children
For Privatized Education
National Education Association
Against Privatized Education

Please leave your comments and feedback!




  1. How do you think the new Secretary of Education will affect our rankings? And are these statistics for public schools or all American schools? How do charter schools compare with public schools?

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