PISA Data Reflects American Schools’ Failure to Prepare Students to Compete Internationally in the Digital Age

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Economic and technological innovations successfully moved the United States from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age. Americans have entered—and now must compete in—a more sophisticated, technological global economy. Unfortunately, new data shows that the nation’s schools have failed to keep up with corresponding educational demands, leaving our young people unprepared for the international marketplace.

The most recent comparison of developed nations from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows that, although the United States is edging up in math and science, still our achievement places us only in the middle of the pack in the developed world.

Among students in 34 developed nations, America’s 15-year-olds rank 25th in math and 17th in science, despite rising achievement in both areas. In reading, an area where many countries’ scores, including ours, have fallen since 2000, the United States now ranks 12th, tied with Poland and Iceland and far below neighboring Canada, which placed third. Even more disturbing is the fact that only about one-third of 15-year-olds in the United States meet reading benchmarks that indicate readiness for higher level work.

Where we rank high, unfortunately, is in inequality. The United States has the fifth largest gap between low-income students and their more affluent classmates. For example, American students attending high-poverty high schools performed at levels 24 percent below those from higher income schools in reading. Ethnic and racial achievement gaps also emerge on PISA, with black and Hispanic students in the U.S. scoring far below their white peers in reading, math, and science.

We as a nation must lift achievement for all kids, especially students of color and those from low-income families. Doing so would go a long way toward equipping America’s young people with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in this new economic landscape.