U.S. Students Rank Low In Math Despite Heavy Spending

While the United States spends more per student than most countries, this does not translate into better mathematics scores, according to a report released today.  The U.S. performed below average in mathematics in 2012 among developed countries and is ranked 26th.

Asian countries outperformed the rest of the world in the latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Programme for International Assessment (PISA) survey, which evaluates the knowledge and skills of the world’s 15-year-olds.

Shanghai-China, and Singapore were top in maths, with students in Shanghai scoring the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above most OECD countries. Hong Kong-China, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Macao-China, Japan, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and the Netherlands were also in the group of top-performing countries.

The survey revealed several features of the best education systems. Top performers, notably in Asia, place great emphasis on selecting and training teachers, encourage them to work together and prioritize investment in teacher quality, not classroom sizes. They also set clear targets and give teachers autonomy in the classroom to achieve them, the report concluded.

The United States, which ranks 3rd after Luxembourg and Switzerland in terms of per capita GDP, has a substantial economic advantage over many other OECD countries because of the amount of money it has available to spend on education. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland spend more per student.   

But heavy spending per student does not translate into better math scores, the report concluded.  For example, the  Slovak Republic’s cumulative expenditure per student is around $53,000 and performs at the same level as the United States which spends over $115,000 per student.  Similarly, Korea, the highest- performing OECD country in mathematics, spends well below the OECD average per-student expenditure.

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