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International Competitiveness

Several decades ago, American students were at the top in every subject; we're now below average or barely treading water when compared to developed countries—and even several developing nations.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old students sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), provides scores for the 34 countries in the OECD. Among all countries assessed, the United States ranks 25th in math literacy and 17th in scientific literacy. When it comes to reading, our rank is better (14th), but still leaves American students far behind their peers in other countries.

This is a crisis for America. As Education Secretary Arne Duncan told The New York Times, "I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better. … The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we're being out-educated."

Literacy Scores

Mathematics Literacy Score
OECD Average (34 Developed Nations) 496
United States 487

Countries — developed and developing — scoring higher than the United States in mathematics literacy include South Korea (546), Shanghai, China (600), Switzerland (534), Australia (514), Iceland (507), Poland (495), Luxembourg (489), Liechtenstein (536), and Slovenia (501).

Data Source: “Highlights from PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context”

Scientific Literacy Score
OECD Average (34 Developed Nations) 501
United States 502

Countries — developed and developing — scoring higher than the United States in scientific literacy include Shanghai, China (575), Canada (529), Japan (539), Estonia (528), South Korea (538), the United Kingdom (514), Hungary (503), Liechtenstein (520), and Singapore (542).

Data Source: “Highlights from PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context

Reading Literacy Score
United States 500
OECD Average (29 Developed Nations) 493

Countries — developed and developing — scoring higher than the United States in reading literacy include Canada (524), Australia (515), Switzerland (501), Shanghai, China (556), Estonia (501) and Norway (503).

Data Source: “Highlights from PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context