Forty years ago, the United States led the world in secondary and higher education rankings, by essentially every measure. Today, however, many other countries have caught up with and even surpassed the United States in nearly every relevant indicator. So says Education at a Glance, an annual report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that provides internationally comparable data and analysis on the state of education in OECD’s thirty member countries.
According to the report, American fifty-five- to sixty-four-year-olds-those who typically would have graduated in the 1960s-lead the world in percentage of high school graduates for their age group, whereas current twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-olds rank a distant tenth. And the nation’s 2005 graduation rate is even worse; it ranks a dismal eighteenth of twenty-three OECD countries.
Similar trends are evident in higher education. Although the United States continues to be a leader in attaining university degrees, the rate of attainment has grown by only 2 percent over three generations, which is less than one fifth the rate of growth in the average OECD country. As a result, several countries now match the United States in this area, and the data indicates that other OECD countries’ younger generations’ rates of attainment are poised to pass the U.S. rate.
Although per student spending in elementary and secondary schools in the United States is higher than in any other country, the report notes that a comparatively small proportion of the resources is invested in teachers. The average teacher’s pay, relative to the gross domestic product, is one of the lowest among OECD countries. Moreover, teachers in both primary and secondary education are asked to do more than those in other countries; American educators have the highest number of teaching hours, far above the OECD average.
The high expenditures in U.S. elementary and secondary schools also extend to children at the pre-K level, where the United States outspends all but the United Kingdom in per pupil estimates. Yet enrollment rates in pre-K programs are significantly lower in America than the OECD average. Several countries are approaching 100 percent enrollment of three- to four-year-olds while the United States’ enrollment rate stands at only 50 percent.
More information on Education at a Glance is available at http://www.oecd.org/edu/eag2007.
 The OECD member countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.
OECD Data Comes to Life: Video Available of OECD Presentation at Alliance Conference
At the Alliance’s conference last week, Andreas Schleicher, head of the Indicators and Analysis Division for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), described the gaps between high school performance and college trends in the United States and other countries. His comprehensive presentation used detailed graphs and data from the OECD’s Education at a Glance.
Schleicher explained that while the United States still possesses the world’s most educated workforce, much of America’s competitive edge was due to history and to the actions that the United States took after World War II; the GI Bill, for example, provided for college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans. Since then, the nation’s competitive advantage has narrowed considerably as other countries have caught up and surpassed the United States. During the 1960s, for instance, the United States was first in the percentage of its population with a high school diploma, whereas Korea was twenty-seventh. Today, Korea is first and the United States is eighteenth.
Audio and video of Schleicher’s presentation and his highly recommended PowerPoint presentation are available athttps://all4ed.org/events/fourth_HSpolicyconference.