Center on International Education Benchmarking

PISA 2012

The OECD has released the results of the its international survey of student achievement, PISA 2012. Click here to see a summary of key findings, view the full reports and data, and see country specific overviews.

NCEE is also proud to have been a partner in presenting PISA Day 2013: Learning Beyond the Rankings, a live webinar event announcing the results. The event included:

  • PISAlogoAn official announcement by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria on the international results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and a discussion on the implications for U.S. education policy;
  • A presentation by Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General of the OECD, containing in-depth findings from the report, including how the United States performed;
  • The first public release of new reports related to United States’s performance on the PISA, and the connections to college- and career-ready standards and deeper learning competencies;
  • Interviews with global education leaders;
  • Reactions to and lessons learned from the results presented by the ten host national education organizations, including a panel with NCEE President Marc Tucker.

Visit to view the recording of the webinar.

CIEB will be adding new content to our web portal about the top performing education systems on PISA 2013 and the features and policies of the highest performing education systems. We encourage you to visit again in the new year to view that important research

Statement on Release of PISA 2012 Results from National Center on Education and the Economy President and CEO Marc S. Tucker

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the OECD released the results of its international survey of student achievement – the 2012 PISA results.  Sadly, it marks a bad day for the United States.

Twenty-nine education systems outperformed the U.S. in mathematics.  Among OECD countries in reading, the U.S. slipped from 14th place to 20th.  In science, we dropped from 17th to 25th.

Our performance is not worse than it was on earlier PISA assessments – in fact,  it held rock steady through each of the successive PISA surveys.  That is the problem.  With each survey, more and more countries surpass the U.S. in these important education rankings.

Two reactions to this dismal news predominate in the U.S.  The first holds that the U.S. is not like these other countries—it is exceptional—and therefore it is unreasonable to compare us with anyone else.  The second holds that none of the data matter anyhow, because our country’s economic performance has exceeded that of our competitors year in and year out and will continue to do so, irrespective of our education performance or lack of it.  There is no evidence to support either of these propositions.

Many allege that one cannot compare the U.S. with other countries because the U.S. is far more diverse than they are.  But the PISA data show that five countries in the survey have a higher proportion of immigrants in their student population, and some of these outperform the U.S.  Many also allege that one cannot compare the U.S. to top performers because the U.S. has such a high proportion of poor children among its students.  But the PISA data show that the share of students in U.S. schools who are disadvantaged is about average for the countries in the survey.  Others say that the U.S. is unique because in that it educates everyone and the countries listed among the top performers only educate their elite.  In fact, the dropout rate in our high schools is around 25 percent, while some of the top performers are graduating close to 90 percent of the students who enter their high schools.  It is they who are educating everyone.  And so it goes, excuse after excuse, none of them backed up by solid data.

But what about the charge that none of it matters because the U.S. has and always will have a superior economy, through thick and thin?  It is true that the American economy is recovering faster than that of many of our competitors.  It is also true that our stock market has been hitting new highs.  American companies are reporting record profits and enormous cash balances – and American manufacturing is on the rebound.  But the real wages of average Americans have been falling or holding steady for decades and that continues to be the case, even in the face of the recovery.  The top one percent are doing very well indeed, and the top 10 percent have no cause for complaint, but average American wages have been sinking.  As time goes by, it becomes more and more the case that what you make is a function of what you know, of the kind and quality of education you have been able to get for yourself and your children.

But that raises the question directly—what does account for the success of the leaders?  What would the United States, or states within the United States, have to do to match their performance?

The first thing they do is very simple: they carefully study the strategies, policies and practices used by the top performers, not with an eye to copying anyone, but to learn from them, to adapt the best to build a version uniquely suited to our own needs.

Second, they provide more resources to the students who are harder to educate than to the students who are easier to educate.

Third, we see that all the top performers have invested heavily in the skills of their teachers.  Some have focused on sourcing their teachers from much higher quality high school graduates, insisting that their teachers have bachelors’ degrees in the subjects they will teach (including their elementary school teachers) and insisting as well on solid preparation in the craft of teaching (they do not believe in alternative routes into teaching that skip this step).  Some, most notably Shanghai, have worked very hard to set up systems that have the effect of helping teachers to improve their practice year after year in a very disciplined way.

Fourth, they have all put a lot of effort into building internationally competitive academic standards, intellectually demanding curriculum and examinations built on the curriculum that are designed to measure the full range of complex thinking skills on which their standards are based.

The top performers have all found ways to give very young children and their parents a lot of support before the children first show up for school.  They pay a lot of attention to vocational education and training and to school to work transition.  Not least important they work hard to build effective systems, the parts and pieces of which are designed to support one another and rely—gasp!—on government to implement those systems well.

You can look from one end of the PISA reports to the other and find no correlation between student performance and use of market forces (charters and vouchers) in education systems.  You will find no correlation between what a country or a city spends per student and the average student achievement in that country or city.  Nor will you find any correlation between student achievement and the use of systems designed to hold teachers accountable for the performance of their students based on their scores on standardized tests.  Which is to say that PISA provides no evidence whatsoever that any component of the current “education reform agenda” in the United States works, with the single exception of the Common Core, which has now come under withering attack.

It is the position of the National Center on Education and the Economy that this country will have broadly shared prosperity only if we succeed in educating all of our children to a world class standard.  The current “education reform agenda” is bankrupt.  There is no evidence that it can succeed.  It is time to embrace a very different education reform agenda, the one that has proven itself in the PISA rankings.