- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

The United States is producing an alarming number of college dropouts and creates students whose performance drops off as they progress through secondary school, said Education Secretary Rod Paige.

The longer American students are in school, “the less competitive they become,” Mr. Paige said in response to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s new report, “Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2004.”

“The report shows our fourth-graders perform above the international average in reading literacy, [but] by the time they reach high-school age, they fall back to average,” according to the report.

He also expressed concern that the U.S. college-dropout rate of 34 percent is above the 30 percent average of all 30 OECD countries “and nearly six times higher than Japan’s.”

“Other nations seem to be valuing education more and more,” Mr. Paige said at a press conference with OECD Director for Education Barry McGaw. “While we rank second only to Canada in college attainment, we could do much better.”

More than one-third of the 25- to 64-year-old population in the United States has finished at least four years of college, compared with 43 percent in first-place Canada, according to the 459-page report.

Japan finished third, while 11 countries have less than one-fifth of their adult population college-educated. Mexico finished last, with only about 5 percent, said the report by OECD, a group of countries committed to expanding democracy and free markets.

Mr. McGaw said the huge difference between high-performing and low-performing students in the United States — commonly called “the achievement gap” — has brought down the United States’ global standing as measured by the quality of education outcome.

“If you look at the average performance, there are 17 countries ahead of the U.S.,” he said. “Get the tail up and your average will rise.”

Mr. Paige said that while the United States ranked first with 87 percent of adults ages 45 to 64 having earned their high-school diplomas, “among 25- to 34-year-olds, we rank only 10th” with 87.7 percent having graduated.

The report says higher education typically ensures greater employment opportunities.

Generally, male workers in OECD countries with less than upper-secondary education “are around 1.5 times as likely to be unemployed” as those with a high-school diploma, according to the report.

In the United States, 83 percent of college-educated adults and three-fourths of high-school graduates had jobs in 2002, but the employment rate for those who did not finish high school dropped to 57 percent.

In 2002, the unemployment rate for college graduates seeking jobs in the United States was 2.6 percent, while it was 6.5 percent for those who had not finished high school.

Mr. McGaw praised efforts to raise standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. “You are certainly spending enough money to do it,” he said.

He said the entire world community looks at education differently today because of the standards movement promoted by the Reagan administration in the 1980s. “What has changed is, there is now much more willingness to focus not on what we are putting into education, but what we are getting out [of it.]”

He said countries that raise the educational attainment of their populations by one year also raise their gross domestic product by 3 percent to 6 percent. “The U.S. had an advantage, which it is losing,” he said.

The United States is an overall big spender per pupil for all levels of education, according to the report.

The United States spent $22,234 yearly per pupil for college costs in 2002. Following were Switzerland ($20,230), Sweden ($15,188), Denmark ($14,280) and Norway ($13,189).

Poland’s $3,579 per-pupil college expenditure was the least among the OECD nations.

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