By Karin Zeitvogel (AFP) – Dec 7, 2010
WASHINGTON — The United States has fallen from top of the class to average in world education rankings, said a report Tuesday that warned of US economic losses from the trend.
The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.
In Canada, 15-year-olds are more than one school year ahead of their US peers in math and more than half a school year ahead in reading and science, said the report released hours after President Barack Obama urged Americans not to rein in education spending, even in a tough economy.
The OECD report also noted that investment in education is paid back many times over.
Boosting US scores for reading, math and science by 25 points over the next 20 years would result in a gain of 41 trillion dollars for the United States economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010, the OECD said.
"Bringing the United States up to the average performance of Finland, the best-performing education system among OECD countries, could result in gains in the order of 103 trillion dollars," said the report.
"This is not to say that efforts should not be directed towards mitigating the short-term effects of the economic recession, but it is to say that long-term issues should not be neglected," it said.
The first step towards helping the United States climb back up the education rankings to the top of the class would be to convince Americans "to make the choices needed to show that (they) value education more than other areas of national interest," the report said.
Currently, 18 percent of US 15-year-olds do not reach an OECD-set level of of reading proficiency, compared to 10 percent in China-Shanghai and Hong Kong, which are compared with countries because of the size of their populations, said the report.
The United States has also fallen behind in the percentage of 15-year-olds who are enrolled in school, ranking third from bottom of the OECD countries, above only Mexico and Turkey.
Only eight OECD countries have a lower high school graduation rate than the United States, and in college education, the United States slipped from second to 13th between 1995 and 2008 -- not because US college graduation rates declined, but because they rose so much faster in other OECD countries.
"These developments will be amplified over the coming decades as countries such as China and India raise their educational output at an ever-increasing pace," the report said, stressing the need for Americans to invest in education.
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