The U.S. is no longer number one in college attainment. It’s 18th (or 6th depending on how you measure) in the world. These are the statistics frequently bemoaned by the Obama administration and used to back up all new education initiatives. But it’s not just the U.S. that’s losing the education race. A look at international measures of high school capabilities reveals that some unexpected countries are surging forward.

According to an article in the New York Times by D.D. Guttenplan:

A respected international survey that found teenagers in Shanghai to be the best-educated in the world has prompted officials elsewhere across the globe to question their own educational systems, and even led the British education minister to promise an overhaul in student testing.

PISA, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, is a set of standardized tests that weighs reading comprehension, mathematics and science, and is taken by half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries.

The top performing countries are, in order:


2. Korea

3. Finland

4. Hong Kong-China

5. Singapore

6. Canada

7. New Zealand

8. Japan

9. Australia

10. Netherlands

11. Belgium

12. Norway

13. Estonia

14. Switzerland

15. Poland

16. Iceland

17. United States

18. Liechtenstein

19. Sweden

20. Germany

The next steps are a little unclear. The United States has done rather poorly on PISA for years and while it often addresses the dismal results, the annual report has yet to spur major reform.

Britain, however, says it plans to improve its education be unequivocally doing what other, higher-scoring countries, are currently doing. Britain will “explicitly borrow from these education tiger nations,” said Education Minister Michael Gove. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer