How are the US school systems doing?

Educational Effectiveness and Outcome By Nation

As compared to other nations, not that well. Data was used from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development nations (OECD) and PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) to calculate educational effectiveness. Educational effectiveness is the ratio of the education outcome and cost divided by the OECD Average effectiveness. The goal is to have high outcomes at a reasonable cost. The charts show national educational effectiveness ordered by educational outcome. The US has slightly below average outcome (97%, due to math scores) and a poor effectiveness (74%). Finland and Japan have both high outcomes and effectiveness, therefore we could learn from them. Turkey has an effectiveness of 179%, but an outcome of 85%. Turkey invests little and gets poor outcome, so we won’t study them.

So how is the US doing academically?

High school seniors were assessed for the first time in 2009, the average score for math was at the 50% mark, roughly corresponding to a 250 score. To improve these results, the NGA and CCSSO developed the Common Core State Standards which aim to shift the educational focus from the lower three levels to a balanced six levels. These activities were included with No Child Left Behind Program, which meant children labeled with learning disabilities needed to be included in education opportunities and assessment. This is occurring at the same time of teaching resource reductions and a decrease in the percentage of teachers making up the school staff. Initial assessments were scheduled for the 2014-2015 school year. So far 33 states have received waivers and 11 more states are seeking waivers.


In 2009, as compared to the other 33 nations in the OECD, the US 15 year olds do average in reading and science, but below average in math.


We are not there yet. The number of high school graduates who completed mandatory and optional mathematics and science courses indicate domain expertise is not a focus of K-12 US education. To address this, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has been assessing the progress of US 4th and eight graders from 1990 to today against criteria that is roughly based on the Bloom's Revised Taxonomy, as seen in the table.

NAEP Criteria Scale

The two separate scales for reading and mathematics ranged from 0 to 500. The red section is where the average 4th and 8th graders scored in 2011.


This means that the average US student functions at the Bloom's lower levels. Despite major financial investments, this trend has not changed over the last 20 years.

Does the US invest?


The US spends more than the better achieving countries. Of the 34 OECD nations, the US has the 3rd highest % of Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDP) going to education.

Expend Student

This trend is consistently rising. The United States spends a third more than Finland, a country that consistently ranks near the top in science, reading and math testing.

How is the money spent and where does the money come from?

How is the money spent and where does the money come from?

This table provides the breakdown of the 2011 US primary and secondary education costs. Instruction Salary includes teachers and professionals whose primary responsibility was not administrative (eg. guidance counselors, school psychologist, librarians). Support services include salaries for administrators and non-professionals. Reporting varies between states, so the primary and nearly sole educators salaries, the classroom licensed teacher, are roughly half the total salary cost.

This is not due to the cost of teachers!

Salary Costs Per Child

The US teacher salary cost per student is 1% lower than the average OECD salary cost per student, so the high cost of education in the US is not due to cost of US teachers. The factors that determine the teacher salary cost per student is teacher salary, student instruction time in hours per year, 1/ teacher working time in hours per year, and 1/ class size.

Looking at the graphs, the US’s approach toward teachers and students is the opposite of the highly effective nations. US has an above average instruction time for students and smaller class sizes than the average. For a constant level of teacher effectiveness, both of these benefit the students and would tend to increase cost per student. However these effects are counteracted by highest average teaching time for teachers and lower salaries (compared to GDP per capita) than the average. Both of these factors are a disadvantage to the teachers.


As seen with Finland and Japan, increased teacher effectiveness allows decreased instruction time for students and larger class sizes with higher outcomes. Finish teachers spend 553 hours per year teaching and 629 hours per year required at school time, spending 88% of their time teaching, and receive slightly higher pay. At the other extreme, US teachers spend 1051 hours per year teaching, and 1378 hours per year required at school time, spending 76% of their time teaching.

US peak teacher salaries vary dramatically by state. The average is peak salary is $54,000, but states like New Jersey have about a third of their school districts where the highest paid professional whose primary responsibility was not administrative earning more than $100,000. In many of these cases, the person had part-time administrative duties. New Jersey boasts an 84-year old teacher earning $111,600 after 40 years of teaching within the district. These are exceptions that fuel the education cost debates. Ultimately, the high cost of US education is not due to teachers. The current teacher situation reduces the costs compared to the average nation.

Quality of teaching most important schooling attribute

It has been shown that the quality of teachers is the most important schooling attribute explaining student achievement. Japan and Finland invest more into their teachers.


GRE scores by profession are reflection of the people entering a field and the level of preparation they received in their bachelors degree programs. GRE scores of Social work, Education, and Psychology BA and BS programs are on the low side of the distribution of scores for the 51 fields of graduate study tabulated by the Educational Testing Service in 2003. The scores reflect the average. Scores for individual can be different. Highly effective teachers tend to have higher scores. This is not terribly surprising. Social work, education, and psychology are probably the lowest paying fields requiring a GRE. Social work and educators also have to deal with much more red tape and bureaucracy than do most other fields. But these are the people we entrust the future of our children to. It also might partically explain the lack of cross-fertization between these professions and the neurosciences.

How did this happen?


As a higher percentage of educational funding came from state and federal resources, a significantly lower percentage of the funding made it to teachers and kids, from 65% to current 37%. Costly regulation activities increased. The teaching profession became less fulfilling, decreasing teacher effectiveness and the qualifications of some entering the profession. Student academic outcomes did not increase.

How much autonomy do US schools have?


US principals and teachers have roughly 50% autonomy in defining instruction. US principals have a similar amount in determining and managing personnel, which is much greater than their counterparts in Japan and Finland. US principals have little say in resource management and planning and structures. Again, similar to their counterparts in Japan and Finland. In the US, those school decisions are made at the state level.


The main differences in outcome seem to be the treatment of teachers and the proportion of funding going directly to instruction services. At the beginning of the reform, Finland started a highly competitive free university teaching programs. The graduates are held in high esteem, comparable to lawyers and doctors, and teachers have high autonomy. Finnish teachers are paid roughly the same as US teachers, adjusted to GDP, but work ~2/3 the hours. The US pays considerably more per child, but only 38% makes it to instruction. Whereas in Finland, a majority goes to instruction. Principals are expected to teach.