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National Blog

What are Ireland, Poland, and Shanghai all doing better than the U.S.A.?


We’re standing still while the rest of the world gains on us or passes us by, and traditionally low standards are to blame. 

The latest results are out from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the worldwide study that lets us know how American students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills stack up to our global peers. The news is bad for our educational system as a whole, and for not only our poorest students but also our highest achieving ones: 

  • Despite being in the top 5 in spending per student, we fell in ranking in both math and reading since 2009: we are 26th and 17th in the world -- below average in math and just average in reading. Our scores remained stagnant while other countries are seeing improved student test scores.   
  • Even accounting for poverty, we fall behind 65 countries or sub countries; when adjusting for both poverty and diversity, our average test scores actually fell
  • Only 2% of our students reach the highest level of performance in math, compared to the average of 3%. In Shanghai, the top performer, that number is 31%. 
  • On the other end, the percentage of American students that don’t meet the lowest performance levels on the math test is below other nations.
  • The math scores of the top performer, Shanghai, were two whole years ahead of our strongest state, Massachusetts. Countries including Ireland and Poland passed us in both subjects. 

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That’s the bad news. So, where do we go from here? 

The PISA report cited that “successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards would yield significant performance gains in PISA.” The Common Core State Standards were specifically created to close the gap between all American students and those in the highest-performing nations, reflecting the knowledge and skills needed to compete globally. Education experts around the nation worked together to create academic goals similar to those of the top achievers around the world. In math, the standards have the strongest parts of the standards from twelve top countries, including Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea. Forty-five states welcomed this move to higher standards for students and adopted the Common Core. 

Already, the three places that have implemented the Standards most enthusiastically—Kentucky, Washington, D.C., and Tennessee—have already realized gains in college readiness and math and reading proficiency, and both Tennessee and D.C. saw average scores on our nation’s report card, NAEP, increase by four times the national average

It’s time for the rest of the country to do the same, and prepare our students for the expectations that their peers around the world have shown are within reach.


Honestly. . What has put us so low? Math has been taught the same way for years. When did the decline start? Common core isn't going to help unless we address the underlying issues.