Is U.S. Education Worth $675 Billion? | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Dr. Terry Stoops, who is director of research and education studies for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

U.S. students fare pretty well in early grades compared with their peers internationally, but then our proficiency levels begin taking a noticeable drop.

    Last month, the National Education Association released "Rankings of the States 2015 and Estimates of School Statistics 2016." "Rankings and Estimates" is a useful publication for its per pupil expenditure and teacher pay rankings. For example, North Carolina is ranked 41st in teacher pay this year, an improvement of one spot since last year and six spots since 2014.

    But take a step back from North Carolina and consider the massive size and scope of the nation's public education enterprise and the relatively disappointing academic results it produces.

    NEA researchers estimate that the United States will spend just under $675 billon on public education this school year. To put that figure in perspective, public school spending alone is roughly equal to the gross domestic product of Switzerland, the 20th-largest economy in the world.

    Of course, the United States educates nearly 50 million children, which is around six times the total population of Switzerland, so one would expect that taxpayers would need to make a significantly larger investment in public schools. Yet, the national average expenditure in the United States is around $12,000 per student, which, coincidentally, joins Switzerland as the fourth-highest in the world.

    Even the Swiss would agree that that is some serious cheddar. Unfortunately, it does not mean that the United States is the academic big cheese.

    In "Comparative Indicators of Education in the United States and Other G-20 Countries: 2015," the National Center for Education Statistics compared education input and output measures in the United States with those in Canada, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and other Group of 20 countries. The report is the most current summary of the performance of students on major international assessments.

    In fourth-grade reading, students in the United States fared well. Seventeen percent of students reached an advanced level on international tests, eclipsing Canada, Germany, and several others. Mathematics performance is a different story. While 13 percent of U.S. fourth-grade students reached the advanced level, 39 percent of South Korean students and 30 percent of Japanese students hit that mark. Science performance among fourth-graders in the United States was competitive with Japan and Russia, but no nation outperformed academic powerhouse South Korea.

    By eighth grade, Pacific Rim nations begin pulling away from the pack. Nearly half of eighth-grade students in South Korea and 27 percent of Japanese eighth-graders scored at the advanced level in math. That compared to only 7 percent in the United States. In science, the gap between the United States and other G-20 nations was not as large. Even so, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and England all had higher percentages of eighth-grade students who scored in the upper achievement tiers on international science assessments.

    Proficiency levels in reading, mathematics, and science literacy among 15-year-old students suggests that the academic deceleration that begins in middle school continues into high school. Indeed, reading performance in the United States lags significantly behind Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and South Korea. Although 9 percent of U.S. high schoolers scored at the top two achievement levels on international math assessments, 24 percent of Japanese and 31 percent of South Korean 15-year-olds attained top scores. Australian, German, and Canadian students were not far behind.

    Over the next year, international testing programs will release updated results from math, science, and reading assessments. Those reports will provide insight into whether the near-universal adoption of the Common Core State Standards in reading and math has improved the nation's international competitiveness. Yet, even if the United States closes the performance gap with top-performing nations, we will have done so at a great and largely unsustainable cost.
Go Back

Leave a Guest Comment

Your Name or Alias
Your Email Address ( your email address will not be published)
Enter Your Comment ( no code or urls allowed, text only please )

State Justices Uphold Tenure For Current Teachers Carolina Journal, Editorials, Op-Ed & Politics Lively Battle For GOP Nomination In 2nd Congressional District


Latest Op-Ed & Politics

WORLD — A newly released report has revealed that people are following their hearts at record levels, with remarkably disastrous results.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted that any allegation that his organization was close to China was an “outright lie.”
For the second year in a row, North Carolina has earned the top spot in CNBC’s annual “America’s Top States for Business” ranking. Gov. Roy Cooper wasted no time taking credit in an interview with CNBC, but as usual there’s more to the story.
The White House appeared to blow off criticisms after President Joe Biden became the first sitting U.S. President to not make an appearance at any of the official memorial sites on September 11: Ground Zero
In an extraordinary display of efficiency and ruthlessness, the FBI's crack tactical team descended upon a sleepy suburban neighborhood after receiving reports of an active incandescent light bulb.


Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas complained on Monday of a “broken immigration system” when asked to respond to a warning from New York City Mayor Eric Adams about the migrant crisis.
HuffPost White House correspondent S. V. Date used the 22nd anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks to claim that former President Donald Trump was worse than “Osama bin Biden.”
After years of being totally obscured by Lizzo's shadow, her backup dancers have finally had enough.


Hundreds of gun owners took to the streets of Albuquerque over the weekend to openly carry their firearms in defiance of the state’s Democrat governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, who unilaterally decided to suspend laws allowing open and concealed carry in the area.


Back to Top