American high school students are trailing teens from 14 leading European and Asian countries in reading, math and science, despite U.S. spending of up to three times as much per pupil, a new study said.
The “Education at a Glance 2003” report to be released today by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states 15-year-olds in Asian countries are the world’s leading learners, showing much greater learning proficiency than their ninth-grade contemporaries in the United States.
“Countries that spend more are countries that tend to do better, but there are countries that don’t get the bang for the buck, and the United States is one of them,” said Barry McGaw, education director for the 30-nation OECD.
The report shows that the United States spends $20,358 annually for each student in public schools and colleges — including educational research and development and other indirect costs — or 5 percent of its gross domestic product, compared with $8,065 in Japan and $6,118 in Korea, or 3.6 percent and 4.3 percent of their GDPs, respectively.
Mr. McGaw said the OECD’s assessments showed that “students engaged in a lot of reading activities” at home and school, regardless of the family’s economic and social situation, showed higher educational achievement than others in every country.
On average, the United States was ranked 14th behind the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France and other nations, according to the report. Japanese and Korean 15-year-olds performed first and second in mathematics, respectively, while U.S. teens ranked 19th among OECD countries. In science, Korea was first, Japan second and the United States 14th. In reading, Finland was first, the United States 15th.
“These results highlight an extremely important truth about the educational system,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said of the report. “We are a little complacent, self-satisfied and often lacking in the will to do better. I don’t think we have yet come to grips with the urgency of the situation.”
Mr. McGaw said that U.S. spending for education as a percentage its GDP and its student dropout rate are on a par with the rest of the world.
“The message is not that you’re behind in any of these respects, but your advantage is being whittled away,” he added.
The OECD report said 22.4 percent 15- to 19-year-olds in the United States and 25.3 percent in the United Kingdom were not in school.
In a separate report also prepared for release today, the Manhattan Institute of New York City said 70 percent of U.S. public high school students graduate, and 32 percent of all high school students leave qualified to attend four-year colleges.
Among blacks, the report said, 51 percent graduate from high school, with 20 percent college-ready. Among Hispanics, 52 percent graduate and 16 percent leave high school ready for college.
For whites, the graduation rate is 72 percent, of which 39 percent have college-ready transcripts; 79 percent of Asians graduate, 46 percent college-ready.
Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in U.S. college admissions because “these students are not acquiring college-ready skills in the K-12 system, rather than inadequate financial aid or affirmative action policies,” the Manhattan Institute report said.