Troubling world test results prove US teenagers as clueless as they appear

Credit: The Rabbit Hole
Credit: The Rabbit Hole

Are any thinking adults really surprised by the low rankings of America’s 15-year-olds in science, math, and reading, as compared to their peers around the world?

Not me, because any public interactions I have had recently with teen-agers as either store clerks or servers in restaurants are consistent with the findings of this disturbing PISA test released on December 3rd and reported in the media.

What exactly is the PISA test? The official explanation is as follows:

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that allows countries to compare outcomes of learning as students near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA core assessments measure the performance of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading literacy every 3 years. Coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA was first implemented in 2000 in 32 countries. It has since grown to 65 education systems in 2012.

Here are the complete test results in a pdf file, but continue reading for the highlights.

If you are an American concerned about our nation’s future — you should be because our texting obsessed, video-game loving, Facebook fanatic 15-year- olds, failed to rank in the top 20 countries in the three tested subjects of science, reading and math.

In fact, the United States placed 36th on the mathematics literacy scale with a score of 481. The top seven spots were all Asian with Shanghai-China the clear winner. Here are the scores of the top ten nations:

  1. Shanghai-China 613
  2. Singapore 573
  3. Hong Kong-China 561
  4. Chinese Taipei  560
  5. Korea, Republic of 554
  6. Macao-China 538
  7. Japan 536
  8. Liechtenstein 535
  9. Switzerland 531
  10. Netherlands 523

The U.S. did slightly better in science, earning a country ranking of 28 with a score of 497, but not even close to the scores of the top ten.

  1. Shanghai-China 580
  2. Hong Kong-China 555
  3. Singapore 551
  4. Japan 547
  5. Finland 545
  6. Estonia 541
  7. Korea, Republic of 538
  8. Vietnam 528
  9. Poland 526
  10. Canada and Liechtenstein 525

In reading literacy, the U.S. earned its highest ranking of 24 with a score of 498. Here again are the top ten:

  1. Shanghai-China 570
  2. Hong Kong-China 545
  3. Singapore 542
  4. Japan 538
  5. Korea, Republic of 536
  6. Finland 524
  7. Ireland, Canada and Chinese Taipei 523
  8. Poland 518
  9. Estonia and Liechtenstein 516
  10. New Zealand and Australia 512

So what do these low U.S. rankings mean? Should we blame the teachers, school boards, parents or the students themselves?

Do American students have too many distractions away from actual school work like sports, and other extracurricular activities?

As a nation do we spend enough money on education?

I believe the answer to the last question is “yes.” For according to a recent report covering the year 2010 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) here is the reality:

In 2010, the U.S. spent more than $11,000 per primary school student and more than $12,000 per high school student. When all levels of education spending were included, the U.S. spent a total of $15,171 on every student – more than any of the other 34 nations covered in the report.

It appears that the USA spends the most per student, but as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) we only spend 7.3 percent of our GDP with the average being 6.3 percent of the 34 nations in the report. Five countries spend more – Denmark (8.0%), Iceland (7.7%), Korea (7.6%), Norway (7.6%), and Israel (7.4%).

Bu what if we spent even more of our GDP on education, would America’s 15-year-olds then perform better on the PISA test? In my opinion, highly doubtful, and here is when I travel into politically incorrect territory.

My theory, just a theory, based on personal experience, is that the smartest people I know either have no children or maybe one, but two seems to be the maximum.

So could our real education achievement problem be that the less intelligent people are having more offspring than the intelligent ones?

That is a concept you will NEVER hear discussed in any education forum.

After all, if someone does not have the brain capacity to learn physics, no expensive classroom or highly paid teacher is going to turn that kid into a physicist. Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience as someone who struggled through Algebra II.

The societal effects of what happens to a nation when the smartest people do not have kids and the less intelligent have many, is taken to its comical, future extreme in the 2006 movie Idiocracy.

Watch that movie and then comment as to whether you see Idiocracy playing out around you in real time. Then, maybe our nation’s low PISA test rankings will begin to make more sense.

Meanwhile, looking at the top of the PISA rankings, I am reminded of a conversation I had years ago with a friend, who at the time, was the China expert to the Secretary of Defense.

Having purchased online what I thought was an American-made computer, I was upset when the box arrived with the label, “Made in China.”

So I asked him why, and his three-word answer was, “start learning Chinese.”


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