Where U.S. stands in education internationally — new report

A new report that analyzes education trends in several dozen countries says that the United States is behind in early childhood education even though it spends more and that American teachers spend more time in class than their international peers.

The report, called “Education at a Glance 2013″ and being released on Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is a collection of comparable national statistics that paint a picture of the state of education around the world. The countries surveyed are the 34 members of the OECD –  which include many of the most economically advanced countries as well as emerging countries, including Turkey and Mexico — as well as nonmembers Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Here are some of the findings, which look at data during the recent worldwide financial downturn:

*The United States ranks 5th in the attainment of a college degree among 25-64 year-olds, but 12th when considering 25-34 year-olds

In 2011, some 42% of American adults aged 25 to 64 had a higher education degree. Only Canada (51%), Israel (46%), Japan (45%) and the Russian Federation (54%) had higher  attainment levels among this age group. But 43% of 25-34 year-old Americans had attained a college education, which was above the OECD average of 39% but far behind Korea, with a 64% tertiary attainment rate among this age group.

*The United States was one of the few countries that cut spending on public education during the financial crisis.

While public investment in education for all levels of education combined increased by an average of 5% among OECD countries between 2008 and 2010, it dropped by 1% in the United States. Among the 31 countries with available data for the period, only four countries in addition to the United States cut back on public expenditure on educational institutions: Estonia (by 10%), Hungary (by 10%), Iceland (by 3%) and Italy (by 7%).

*Despite the drop, the United States still spent more on public education on a per-student basis than any other surveyed country.

In 2010, the United States spent 7.3% of its GDP on all levels of education combined. This is well above the OECD average (6.3%), and more than all other OECD countries, except Denmark (8.0), Iceland (7.7%), Israel (7.4), Korea (7.6%), and Norway (7.6%). Across all levels of education, annual per-student spending by educational institutions in the United States (USD 15 171) is higher than in any other country.

*Early education in the United States is not as well developed as in many of the other countries.

For most children in a majority of OECD countries, especially in European countries, education now begins well before they are five years old. In the United States, in 2011, only 50% of children were enrolled in early childhood education at the age of 3, compared to 68% on average among OECD countries. In some countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden more than 90% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood education. The typical age for entering early childhood education in the United States is 4 years old, but in 2011, only 78% of children this age were enrolled, compared with 85% of 4-year-olds across OECD countries.

*Teachers salaries increased far less in the United States than in most other countries from 2000-2011, and these salaries are not competitive with those of similarly educated workers.

Of the 26 OECD countries with available data, teachers’ salaries increased between 17% and 20% in real terms between 2000 and 2011 – however, in the United States, the increase has been 3%. Only in France and Japan did teachers’ salaries at all three levels fall in real terms by almost 10% during that period. However, during the first years of the economic crisis (2009-11), teachers’ salaries fell for the first time since 2000, by around 2% at each of the three levels of education (primary, lower and upper secondary) for OECD countries with available data.

*Fewer international students came to the United States in 2011 than in previous years.

In 2011, about 4.3 million tertiary-level students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship. North America is the second most attractive destination for foreign students (21% of the total share) after Europe (48% of the total share). The share of international students choosing the United States to pursue their tertiary studies dropped from 23% in 2000 to 16% in 2011, whereas other countries such as Australia, Korea, New Zealand, the Russian Federation, Spain and the United Kingdom saw their share increase by at least one percentage point during the same period.

*Teachers in the United States spend more time in front of the class than their peers in other countries.

On average, primary school teachers spend almost 1 100 hours a year teaching (the OECD average is 790 hours); lower secondary teachers teach for about 1 070 hours a year (the OECD average is 709 hours); and upper secondary school teachers spend about 1 050 hours a year in the classroom (the OECD average is 664 hours). In most OECD countries, the number of hours of teaching per year tends to decrease as the level of education rises; but in the United States, the number of teaching hours is roughly the same in primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education.

 

*The United States spends more private money on education than most other countries.

In general, a larger-than-average proportion of the United States’ spending on education comes from private sources. Some 69% of expenditures on all levels of education combined come from public sources; 31% come from private sources. By comparison, across all OECD countries, 84% of education expenditures are from public sources, and 16% of expenditures are from private sources.
In the United States, the public-private balance of expenditure on tertiary education is nearly the reverse of the average across other OECD countries. In the United States, 36% of expenditure on higher education come from public sources, and 64% come from private sources. Across all OECD countries, 68% of expenditure on tertiary education come from public sources, while 32% come from private sources.
Nearly half (48%) of all private expenditures on higher education in the United States comes from households.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | June 25, 2013