If the United States does not make comprehensive education reform an urgent priority, the economic stagnation we currently face will only be a glimpse of what is to come.  

An educated society that is able to compete in a global economy is the key to future economic growth, but a study released Tuesday indicates that, when compared to their international counterparts, American students are far from the top of the class.  

Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance published a shortened study in Education Next that shows that American students rank 32nd among industrialized nations in math and 17th in reading. 

The math scores are particularly concerning.  Only 32 percent of American students achieved proficiency in math, compared to 75 percent of students in Shanghai, 58 percent in Korea, and 56 percent in Finland.  

The image below compares the 65 school systems throughout the world that administer the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to representative samples of 15-year-old students.  To further illustrate American student performance in math, the authors include how each state compares to one another and to other countries. (Click here for full-sized image)

Math Proficiency Chart

The authors contend that current education levels have a direct impact on the job market in the United States as American companies have been forced to outsource professional-level work abroad due to shortages of technically skilled workers.  Co-author Eric Hanushek observes

“Graduates in each and every state compete for jobs with graduates from all over the world.  Since student performance on international tests such as PISA is closely related to long-term economic productivity growth, increasing U.S. students’ proficiency levels to those attained in Canada would increase our economic growth rate by some 50 percent.” 

According to the study, only 32 percent of American students in the Class of 2011 were proficient in math at the age of 15.  This class ranked 32nd internationally, and 22 countries “significantly” performed better than the American students.  While less than a third of American students were proficient, at least a majority of students in Korea, Finland, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, Shanghai and Hong Kong were proficient in math. 

If America hopes to become a global economic leader again, we must take these results seriously and comprehensively overhaul America’s education system.

Click here to find the full length study: Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?