Earlier this year, New York City hosted the first-ever International Summit of Teaching. A report emerged from that event, written by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The report rated the U.S. as "average" when it compared America's educational system to those of other nations.
In scores that go up to 1,000, America received an average score of around 500, with 502 in science (17th out of 34), 500 in reading (14th out of 34) and 487 in math (25th out of 34). For a country that is often recognized as one of the leading nations in the world in several areas, these scores are definitely alarming. Even more alarming, however, is how much the U.S. has been spending on education.
Spending and Performance
It's not like the U.S. hasn't been investing in education compared to other countries. In fact, America is the clear leader in educational spending, spending over $800 billion a year, five times more than the second-highest spender, Japan. When we compare this number to the expenditure of a country such as Canada, we see how bad the problem truly is.
Canada spends around $65.4 billion on education a year (not even 10% of what the U.S. spends), but Canada's 15-year-olds were found to be a year ahead of U.S. students in math, and more than a half a school year ahead in reading and science. It doesn't stop at high school levels, either. The U.S. has also seen fewer college graduates relative to other leading nations, slipping from second place in 1995 to 13th in 2008.
The Worst News
What really doesn't make sense, though, is where that money is going. At the Summit, there was also evidence of how little support American teachers have been getting. The majority of teachers in the U.S. had to go into debt in order start their careers, and on average only earn 60% of the average income of college graduates employed in other fields. Not to mention that the teachers who end up working in poorer communities are usually making less than teachers in more affluent areas, and also have to pay for many of their own supplies.
Evidence was also given that America was more willing to lower standards than to raise salaries, and many teachers have little opportunities to collaborate with one another, making sense of the fact that a third of U.S beginner teachers leave within their first five years of work.
Countries such as Singapore and Finland have an almost completely opposite attitude. In Singapore, teachers are paid very well, earning as much as beginner doctors, and work in a very collaborative environment. Finland supports its teachers by enabling them to enter master's degree programs, all while earning a salary.
The Only Good News
The only good news for America to come from this report is that the problem is now in the public eye, and the Obama administration has at least been trying to stimulate improvements. The Obama administration attempted to initiate a stimulus package by sending $100 billion to various states, but is more money really what the system needs? Although this major initiative was endorsed by President Obama and Arne Duncan (Education Secretary), it was opposed by Republicans. Experts and politicians alike agree that the Republicans will serve as a major roadblock to any Democrat-led education reform. However, more money will not not fix any underlying problems.
The Bottom Line
With the U.S. already spending at least five times more than any other country on education and steadily declining in educational performance, maybe spending more money on education is not the answer.
One thing is clear though, there is a problem with the system, and something must be done. Teachers need more support, and not only in the form of higher salaries either (although that may help). Other support in the form of more grants for those pursuing any teacher-related career, as well as a supportive environment for teacher collaboration might be a good start. In addition, with $800 billion going towards educational spending annually in the U.S., we would think that all of this could be affordable.