Comparing the U.S. to its competitors

Every couple of years, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases a report on how the U.S. compares to its partner countries in the G-8 on a variety of educational areas. The latest edition, Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-8 countries: 2009, shows while all students attend school at the elementary level in all countries, not all students attend at the pre-school level (3 and 4-year olds), particularly in the United States. And while the U.S. does spend more per student than other G-8 countries, as a percentage of GDP U.S. spending is similar to most other G-8 countries.

Examining such comparisons can really be helpful to find out where the U.S. needs to improve and learn what we can do to make those improvements.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

Population and School Enrollment

  • The United States (48 percent) lags well behind other G-8 countries in enrolling 3- and 4- year olds in pre-primary education.
    • In France and Italy, nearly all 3- and 4-year olds were enrolled.
    • More than 80 percent were enrolled in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
  • G-8 countries educate nearly all their elementary-aged children.
    •  Russia is the only G-8 country where fewer than 98 percent of elementary school-aged (5-14 years old) students are enrolled in formal education.  However, Russia does not start compulsory education until age 7.
    • More than 90 percent of U.S. children are enrolled in school from age 6 through 16–a ten-year span.
      • Only Russia (8 years) has a shorter span in which 90 percent of children are enrolled in school.
      • France had the greatest number of years of schooling with 14.

Academic Performance

  • In reading, Russia outperformed the United States and all other participating countries on the 4th grade reading literacy assessment PIRLS.
    • U.S. 4th graders did outperform Scotland and France, but scored lower than Russian and Italy.
    • However, only England (15 percent) and Russia (19 percent) had a higher percentage of students reaching the Advanced level than the United States (12 percent).
  • In math, Japan outperformed all other G-8 countries on both the 4th and 8th grade TIMSS assessments.
    • Ten percent of U.S. 4th graders scored at the Advanced level in math. This was a higher percentage than Germany, Italy, and Scotland, but lower than Japan, Russia, and England.
    • Six percent of U.S. 8th graders scored at the Advanced level in math. This was higher than Scotland and Italy, but lower than Russia, Japan, and England.
  • In science, more U.S. 4th graders (15 percent) scored at the Advanced level than any other G-8 countries except Russia (16 percent).
    • In the 8th grade, the percentage dropped to 10 percent. This was lower than England, Japan and Russia but higher than Scotland and Italy.
    • At the high school level, U.S. 15-year olds outperformed Italy and Russia but were outperformed by Canada, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Context of Learning

  • U.S. 4th graders have teachers who spend more time on reading instruction per week than any other G-8 country.
  • U.S. teachers teach more hours of instruction per year than teachers in all other G-8 countries. However, when non-teaching time is included—such as preparing lesson plans—teachers in Japan and Germany work more hours per year.

Expenditure for Education

  • The United States spends more per student ($9,800) on primary and secondary education than any other G-8 country on average.
    • However, as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), France (4.0 percent) spent more than the United States (3.8 percent) and the United Kingdom spend the same as the United States (3.8 percent).
    • Japan spent the least with 2.9 percent of GDP.
  • Germany is the only G-8 country to have a higher average starting salary for their teachers than the United States for both elementary and high school teachers.

Education Returns: Educational Attainment and Income

  • Thirty-nine percent of the U.S. population ages 25 to 64 have earned a college degree, which is lower than that of Canada (47 percent), Japan (40 percent), and Russia (54 percent). Italy had the lowest percentage at just 13 percent.
  • The United Kingdom had the highest rates of employment across all educational attainment categories.
  • Across all G-8 countries, those with higher educational attainment were more likely to be employed.

For more information on what international assessments are really measuring and how U.S. students really compare, check out the Center’s More than a horse race: A guide to international assessments of student achievement. –Jim Hull

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