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The embarrassing reality of U.S. education, ‘you can’t drop much lower’

Published in Blog on December 05, 2023 by Brianna Kraemer

Before the Covid emergency drove schools to close their doors, U.S. students were already underperforming in math compared to other nations. Yet American teenagers' math performance has declined sharply ever since, with scores now reaching a 20-year low, according to results from an international exam released on Tuesday.

An international exam, called the Program for International Student Assessment, is intended to provide comparable international results on student academic performance. However, the 2022 results show a concerning trend for American students.

Far into the bottom half of the ranks, America stands in 28th place out of 37 participating countries in math performance. 15-year-olds in the U.S. scored below students in similarly developed nations like the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany, and even more behind students in the highest-performing countries including Singapore, South Korea, and Estonia.

“I don’t think you can drop much lower,” said Andreas Schleicher, the director for education and skills at the O.E.C.D., which oversees the exam. “You don’t want to compare the U.S.” to less advanced economies, he said.

About 66% of U.S. students performed at least at a basic level in math. Just 7% of U.S. students scored at the highest levels in math, compared with 23% in Japan and South Korea, and 41% in the top-performing country – Singapore.

“From a competition lens, this is not where you want to be,” said Tracey Burns, chief of research and evaluation at the National Center on Education and the Economy. Meanwhile, reading and science scores were above average compared internationally with about 80% of students performing at least at a basic level. 

The New York Times reports that “Even with its declines in math, the United States lost less ground than some European countries that prioritized opening schools more quickly.”

Because other nations experienced greater declines than America, the U.S. actually moved up in the ranks, sparking the Biden administration to spin the poor results into a celebratory affair. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona attributed the rise in part to a $122 billion federal relief package for schools. 

But in reality, students in a prosperous nation like America should be excelling with a high-quality education, not suffering at the bottom of the math ranks. 

Education fuels the future. America’s education system is laughable, and it may have something to do with federal authorities prioritizing Title IX gender inclusivity over a robust curriculum. 

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