US lags in international testing…Again!

Legalize School Choice New results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) came out this morning, and once again US students were left behind by overseas competition.

I’m still going through the report, which covers testing administered in 2012, but some scholars had a chance to review an advance copy, and their comments are already circulating by e-mail.

Paul E. Peterson, who directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, summarizes:

“The bitter reality is that American students’ performance on international math, science, and reading tests is still sub-par. Our kids trail students in most of the industrialized world and lag far behind countries like Germany, Korea, Canada, and Australia to say nothing of the broad grouping of East Asian countries at the top. This embarrassing performance, unchanged even as politicians and citizens profess a keen interest in improving our schools, bodes poorly for the future economic security of the United States.”

Another scholar who got an advanced look is Eric Hanushek, a Senior Fellow in Education at the Hoover Institution. His reaction to the new report:

“What the PISA results show is the dire need to entertain more radical changes in our stagnant schools: more choice, more performance pay, and more local decision-making. Each of these will help America’s kids, however, only if there is also a good system of standardized testing that identifies failing schools and holds them accountable. Then, when the next round of international test scores is released in 2016, we may finally have some genuine good news.”

One real shocker I already spotted on my own, the country of Vietnam outscored the US across the board in math, science and reading. In math and science, the difference between the US and Vietnam performance was significant.

So, the US has a serious and continuing problem. Our schools’ performance is “stagnant” compared to a lot of tough competition elsewhere. We need real reforms in our schools (not an incomplete, bait and switch approach with standards that cut off after the 10th grade), and experts like Hanushek see school choice as one of the tools we need to move beyond educational mediocrity.

To see more details, click the “Read more” link.

(Most material below is from the new report)

What Is PISA?

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that allows countries to compare outcomes of learning as students near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA core assessments measure the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy every 3 years. Coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA was first implemented in 2000 in 32 countries. It has since grown to 65 education systems in 2012.

What PISA Measures

PISA assesses the application of knowledge in mathematics, science, and reading literacy to problems within a real-life context (OECD 1999). PISA does not focus explicitly on curricular outcomes and uses the term “literacy” in each subject area to indicate its broad focus on the application of knowledge and skills.

Quick Review of the results (Click on Tables to Enlarge):

My Overall Note: The state of Massachusetts, which used to have the best education standards in the nation, handily outscored the OECD averages and bested many of the nations that took part in the PISA in 2012. Massachusetts also scored far above the US average. So, why did this state abandon its former standards for the watered down, cuts off after 10th grade, Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? That is a question lots of citizens of that state are asking, and Massachusetts has now declared a two-year moratorium on further work with CCSS.

The new PISA results are going to give CCSS opponents in the Bay State a lot more ammunition.


US scores statistically significantly below the average for the OECD countries. Some of the real shockers: Our students were outscored by Vietnam and a number of former Eastern European Communist countries.

PISA Math 2012 All Countries


US just ties OECD average. Vietnam and a number of former Communist countries outscored us.

PISA Science 2012 All Countries


US only ties OECD average. Still 19 countries outscored us by a statistically significant amount. Vietnam again outscored us, but the difference of 10 points was not reported as statistically significant.

PISA Reading 2012 All Countries

One further note about Vietnam: I served there during the war more than 40 years ago. Even while that country was being torn and shredded by war, my fighter squadron was helping to build a new school for kids there. Despite destruction all around, the people of Vietnam valued education enough to want to give their kids an opportunity to learn in the midst of all that chaos. That, fellow Americans, is the measure of our competition. And, the new PISA shows again, we are not measuring up.


  1. Gee, I thought the huge investments in technology in the classroom were supposed to push us to the top. WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY. Let’s get back to real books and real teachers instead of parking kids in front of computers and using online instruction.

  2. Richard Innes says:

    RE: Education Voodoo,

    I am a real, informed fan about technology. However, technology is only as good as the programming that goes into it.

    Years ago I used technology as one of the initial program developers for the first generation of automated teaching machines ever used operationally for Air Force pilot training. It was a huge improvement. But I knew something about flying, how to teach it in the air, and how to use the new technology intelligently to help get the word out to budding pilots.

    If you don’t have really well-prepared and talented individuals creating the programs, and this takes more preparation than most classroom teachers currently get, nothing changes.

    So, please don’t be too quick to blame the tools, because they might be getting used by unskilled laborers.

Speak Your Mind