Why U.S. Students Don’t Match Up To Top Scoring Countries

2 min


Even though the U.S. spends more money per student than any other country in the world on kindergarten to high school education; even though the U.S. has some of the smallest class sizes in the world; even though the U.S. has doubled what it spends on education over the past few decades, it still doesn’t match up with the academic performance of the top 15 countries in the world.

USA vs the world education color range map bored teachersvia Amanda Ripley/PopTech

This map shows how each state in the U.S. matches up to other countries who had similar scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international test of mathematical reasoning given to 15-year-olds. The red states are the lowest scoring countries in the world, with purple being the top 15 countries in the world. Not a single American state is purple…

Reporter Amanda Ripley wanted to find out the reason behind this mystery.

An investigative journalist for Time Magazine and the Atlantic, Amanda has spoken to many American students, teachers, principals, parents, and education experts to find out why the U.S. performs so poorly compared to other countries around the world, academically.

“Kids have strong opinions about school. We forget as adults how much time they sit there contemplating their situation.”

She heard various theories but most people put the blame on poverty and diversity, for the difference in academic performance. While both poverty and diversity are extremely prevalent in the U.S., the numbers didn’t add up. According to her research, even the most privileged kids in America ranked 23rd in the highest scoring countries in the world.

“If we want to know how to raise resilient kids, there are lots of ways that we need to find out and one of them needs to be to ask kids because kids can tell you things that no one else can.”

So she kept digging. She started looking for students who had lived in both the U.S. and other countries, thinking they would have more of a firsthand perspective. She began surveying American exchange students living in the countries with the highest test scores, and here are the three clues that they gave her:

  1. School is harder“It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. It’s about rigor. School is serious business in these countries.”
  2. Sports are just a hobby“No country is like the U.S. when it comes to the obsession with children playing sports. It’s a huge distraction from the business of school. Where in other countries, it’s about school.”
  3. Kids believe there’s something in it for them“Students in other countries believe that what they are doing in school affects how interesting their lives are going to be. Students take their education more seriously than students in America.”

Hear it straight from the exchange students themselves, and more details about Ripley’s awesome research, in the video below:


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