NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

American Students Average In International Comparisons

December 27, 2001

Over the past several years, various international assessments of students' factual knowledge of math and science have placed U.S. students squarely in the middle in comparison with their peers in other industrialized countries. Experts are concerned that shortages of workers with the ability to apply scientific reasoning and mathematical logic to new problems may signal decline in U.S. leadership in these areas.

  • The Third International Mathematics and Science Study, taken in 1995 and repeated in 1999, showed U.S. eighth graders ranking 14th out of 38 countries.
  • The massive National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science, released in November, showed that 47 percent of high school seniors don't have "basic" science skills -- declining from 1996, when 43 percent of seniors couldn't answer basic questions about earth, life or physical science.
  • Another international student assessment -- the Program for International Student Assessment, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- found that American 15-year-olds have average science-literacy scores, ranking 14th out of 31 countries.

Nobel laureate Milton Friedman assigns the blame to lack of school choice. Friedman recently said that the science scores are "disastrous" but not unexpected, given the "Soviet-style" monopoly of public K-12 education in the U.S.

Source: Cheryl Wetzstein, "Science Dunces?" Washington Times, December 27, 2001.


Browse more articles on Education Issues