NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Can American Students Compete Globally?

August 19, 2011

Thirty-two percent of U.S. students in the class of 2011 were proficient in mathematics when they were in 8th grade, according to the official U.S. report card on student achievement.  Coincidentally, that places the United States in 32nd place among the 65 nations of the world that participated in PISA, the math test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says Paul E. Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute.

  • That 32 percent proficiency rate compares to a 50 percent or better proficiency rate in Korea, Finland, Switzerland, Japan, Canada and the Netherlands.
  • In Shanghai, the proficiency rate is no less than 75 percent.
  • Many other nations also had math proficiency rates well above that of the United States, including Germany (45 percent), Australia (44 percent) and France (39 percent).
  • Of all the states, only Massachusetts has a majority of its students (51 percent) scoring at or above the proficiency mark; Minnesota, the runner-up state, has a math proficiency rate of just 43 percent.
  • Only four additional states -- Vermont, North Dakota, New Jersey and Kansas -- have a math proficiency rate above 40 percent.

Some of the country's largest and richest states score below the average for the United States as a whole, including New York (30 percent), Missouri (30 percent), Michigan (29 percent), Florida (27 percent) and California (24 percent), says Peterson.

Source: Paul E. Peterson, "With a Math Proficiency Rate of 32 Percent, U.S. Ranks Number 32," EducationNext, August 18, 2011.  Paul E. Peterson et al., "Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?" Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance, August 2011.

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