United States Students Fall Short in Math, Science, and Literacy

December 9, 2010

The results are in from an international test given to 15-year-old students across the globe back in 2009. The test, the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, was jointly developed by participating economies and was administered in 65 countries.  PISA assesses student’s knowledge and skills in the domains of reading literacy, mathematical literacy, problem solving and scientific literacy.   The assessments are not based on mastery of curriculum, but how much important knowledge and skills students have acquired that enable full participation in society.

The results were officially released on Tuesday (12/7) and the outcome is less than desirable for the United States education system.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, comments on the outcome,  “We have to see this as a wake-up call. The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects.  We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”

At the top of the rankings in all subjects is Shanghai, China.    Although experts noted the obvious difficultly in using standardize tests to compare countries and cities, they agree that the impressive academic performance of students in Shanghai is significant, and an indication of China’s rapid modernization.   Shanghai’s impressive results may be a reflection of the emphasis the Chinese put on training and educating their workforce, especially in the areas of math and science.

Students in a Shanghai classrom

In a speech to a college audience in North Carolina on Monday (12/6), the President compared the achievements of industrializing counties such as China to the Soviet Union’s launching of Sputnik back in 1957.  Sputnik motivated the United States to increase investment in math and science education, helping America to eventually win the space race.  President Obama also commented on the state of the Educational system in America. “In the race for the future, America is in danger of falling behind. In a generation we have fallen from 1st to 9th place in the proportion of young people with college degrees.  When it comes to high school graduation rates we tanked 18th out of 24 industrialized nations.  We lag behind other nations in the quality of math and science education.”

Click here for more information on PISA and the 2009 test results.