In late November, the OECD released their annual compilation of statistics on education systems around the globe: Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators. Presenting over 300 individual data points on 42 countries, including the United States, the report is necessary reading for anyone interested in international education benchmarking.
Drawing on data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), census reports and other national and global data sources, Education at a Glance presents data related to enrollment, attainment, educational mobility, labor market outcomes, public and private investment in education, the structure of schooling, and the profile of countries’ teaching force. New areas of focus not reported in previous editions of the publication include data on participation in early childhood education and its cost, additional information on adult skills in information technology (drawn from PIAAC surveys,) and more data on the impact of education on adults’ earning potential. This International Spotlight will highlight several key takeaways from the report for policymakers and the general public, with an emphasis on data that was not present in previous editions of the report.
Early childhood education
Following global attention to the documented benefits of high-quality education for the youngest children, for the first time, Education at a Glance 2015 includes several indicators related to early childhood education enrollment. The U.S. has one of the lowest rates of 3- and 4-year-olds participating in education of any country surveyed. In the U.S., 41 percent of 3-year-old children and 66 percent of 4-year-old children are enrolled in education. This is substantially below the average of 74 percent enrollment for 3-year-olds and 88 percent for 4-year-olds. Only Indonesia and Saudi Arabia enroll fewer 3-year-olds; top performers Estonia, Korea and Japan enroll over 80 percent of 3-year-olds.
Teachers’ earnings and status
Around the world, teachers continue to be underpaid relative to their level of education. Across OECD countries, teachers earned, on average 80 percent of what similarly educated workers did, in line with top performers Finland, Poland, and Estonia. The U.S. has an even greater disparity between the earnings of its teachers and similarly educated workers: it pays its teachers only 68 percent of what similarly educated workers earn.
Evaluation and assessment
In keeping with international interest in the role that testing and accountability play in countries around the world, Education at a Glance now includes a new section mapping out the evaluation and assessment mechanisms in public schools. The U.S. is the only country to have nationally mandated assessments, which are tests of student ability that may have consequences for teachers and schools, in five or more subjects at every level of schooling. (Other countries also have these exams, but much fewer of them, and not at all levels. However, other countries, including top performers Poland and Estonia, have examinations with consequences for students, often gateway examinations that determine where students will move in the next stage of their educational careers, more frequently than the United States.
ICT skills of adults
For the first time, Education at a Glance integrates data from the PIAAC Survey of Adult Skills, measuring literacy, numeracy, problem-solving skills, and ability to use and solve problems with information and communications technology (ICT). On average across OECD countries and partners, 52 percent of adults aged 25-34 were demonstrated “good” ICT and problem-solving skills, a figure matched by the United States. Countries that performed particularly well on this measure include Australia (56 percent), Finland (57 percent), and the Netherlands (58 percent). For more about the gaps between younger and older adults in ICT skills and problem solving, see this month’s Statistic of the Month.
Economic advantages of education
Countries with more developed, and more highly regarded, systems of secondary vocational education, including Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland, had lower earnings disparities between those with post-secondary qualifications and those without, ranging from 40 to 50 percent. Earning a post-secondary education diploma or qualification leads to a much higher salary premium in the United States than in other countries with developed economies, on average. Tertiary-educated workers in the U.S. tend to earn 76 percent more on average than their peers. In contrast, the OECD average was a 60 percent premium.
Subnational data: a new frontier for the OECD
In this edition of the Education at a Glance report the OECD announced that for the first time they have included state or jurisdiction-level data on attainment and enrollment. This year’s compilation of subnational data is somewhat limited, focusing only on tertiary attainment, and early childhood, primary and secondary enrollment for: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Ireland, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United States. Currently, the data allow us to see, for example, that the United States with the highest attainment rates are also those with the highest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. However, future editions of Education at a Glance promise to provide subnational data on more varied and robust indicators.
This opportunity to dive more deeply into the results of individual states, rather than nations, will be particularly exciting for policymakers in countries with a strong tradition of state or subnational policymaking in education, including the United States, Canada, Germany and Australia. The data will allow us to ask and answer such questions as: exactly how much better do Massachusetts’ students do than Wyoming’s on assessments of skills and readiness? How do the characteristics of students and teachers differ in Ontario and Alberta? At the Center on International Education Benchmarking, we are excited for researchers and policymakers to explore jurisdiction-level variations in policy, practice and outcomes in more detail, and look forward to sharing the results with you.