No Mention? No Surprise

I have not seen any mention of these recently released results on American blogs. One might have briefly wondered why, but the figures will explain.


"The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardised assessment that was jointly developed by participating countries and administered to15-year-olds in schools. The survey was implemented in 43 countries in the 1st assessment in 2000, in 41 countries in the 2nd assessment in 2003, in 57 countries in the 3rd assessment in 2006 and 62 countries have signed up to participate in the 4th assessment in 2009.

Tests are typically administered to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each country. The PISA 2006 results were released on 4 December 2007."

However, the results for science were reported early.

Finland 563
Hong Kong 542
Canada 534
Taiwan 532
Estonia 531
Japan 531
New Zealand 530
Australia 527
Netherlands 525
Liechtenstein 522
Korea 522

The point is that 35 countries ranked ahead of the US in aggregate science scores and 34 countries performed ahead of the US in mathematics. The US appears not to have participated in reading testing.

For comparison, scores for science, math, and reading:
Finland ranked 1st, 2nd, and 2nd in reading - congratulations, Finland!
Canada ranked 3rd, 7th, 4th.
Australia ranked 9th, 13th, 7th.
UK 21st, 24th, 17th.
US, 36th, 35th, -.

What's wrong with this picture? What happened to "no child left behind"? The US is one of the wealthiest developed nations – it certainly brags that it is – and the US does have some fine postsecondary schools and has historically performed well in research, but these numbers suggest that this advantage will not continue.

"While in every country, student performance tended to be stronger for students with more favourable home backgrounds, this relationship (or “socio-economic gradient”) was much more powerful in some countries than others."

In those countries that performed well across the board, the impact of socio-economic disadvantage was less than average, while for the US it was higher than average, indicating that education is very 'spotty' in the US. No surprise. Inner city schools and rural schools, particularly in the Bible Belt probably perform well below par. Widespread anti-science and anti-expert polemics in the US can't be helping matters.

Things also seem to have changed with time. My education took place in England (primary and grammar school), Australia (high school and degree), and Canada (degrees). At the time that I completed my second university degree (in Canada), I would have guesstimated that the educational ranking would have been England > Australia > Canada. It appears that the current situation is the reverse of this, at least for 15 year olds. I'm glad about this because I live in Canada, so the taxes that I pay toward education appears to be money well spent. Now, if we could just get rid of our uranus of a PM!

If I lived in the US, I'd be furious about these results. But then, even though I consider the US a nice place to visit, it would take a great deal to induce me to live there.

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