OECD Data Shows US Falling Behind on Key Education Indicators


According to a report concerning the status of education across the world, although many countries are pushing forward on a number of important education indicators ranging from prekindergarten through higher education and into the workforce, the United States is lagging.

The 600-page report, “Education at a Glance 2015,” released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), suggests the US is falling behind on several indicators starting before prekindergarten, where the report found 41% of 3-year-olds in the country are enrolled in a pre-K program.  Meanwhile, the global average for all OECD countries is 72%.

While that number does jump in the US to 66% for 4-year-olds, the average among OECD countries is still higher at 88%.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s deputy director for education and skills, said the gap is not necessarily a result of situations being worse in the US.  “There has just been enormous progress” in other parts of the world, he said.

The report examines the educational system of 34 countries across the world, mostly made up of industrialized nations such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and most European nations.  Also accounted for are non-member nations including Argentina, Brazil, China, India, and Russia, among others, writes Greg Toppo for USA Today.

The average OECD country invests 0.6% of GPD into their pre-primary education system.  While areas such as Norway and Finland are investing closer to 1%, the United States averages out around 0.4% “at the lower end of the spectrum,” Schleicher said.

The US was also found to have larger than average class sizes throughout the primary grades, but below average for middle and high schools.  However, Schleicher said that smaller class size is not enough to give the US an advantage, as teachers at those levels do not have enough opportunity to collaborate on a professional level or observe each other at work.

Meanwhile, teachers in Finland spend 30% of their time outside of the classroom setting.  “So there’s a lot of space and time that teachers have to do other things than teach,” he said. “You don’t see that in the United States.”

In addition, countries that have larger class sizes “use the resources that creates, actually, to give teachers opportunities to do other things than teach,” Schleicher said.

Teachers in the US were also found to work longer hours for less pay.

The report also found the US to rank highly among people earning degrees in the country, with 44% of people obtaining some form of post-secondary education in comparison with the OECD average of 33%.  The US ranked fifth among the OECD countries in 2014.  However, other countries are beginning to catch up, and the tuition in those countries were not found to be anywhere near as costly, as the US was found to have on average the highest tuition fees of any of the OECD countries.

In order to address this, the Obama administration set a goal of having the most college graduates in the world by 2020.  Schleicher said this would be “very, very hard to attain,” and would only be possible if the number of people holding degrees increased from 44% to 60% by the end of the decade, reports Lauren Camera for US News.

The administration is also working on tackling the issues found in prekindergarten years by making it a priority by pushing for free early childhood education for all low and middle-income families.