A new brief from NCEE explores how, in the wake of the pandemic, education systems both in the U.S. and abroad are harnessing innovation and digital technologies to deepen and accelerate learning for all students.

Education at a Glance 2021: Implications for the U.S.

Pandemic school closures impacted the quality and equity of learning for school children around the world, according to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report. 


Disadvantaged students are most likely to struggle with distance learning and are more at risk of disengaging with education during sustained periods of school closures. OECD’s Director of Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher discussed these findings during a webinar with NCEE CEO Anthony Mackay about the release of its annual Education at a Glance report and the implications for the U.S. Education at a Glance provides comparative data of over 70 education systems using a set of indicators that provide information on the human and financial resources invested in education, how education and learning systems are organized, and education outcomes. The latest edition includes a focus on equity.

There was little relationship between whether schools were open or closed last school year and the level of Covid infection in those countries, according to Schleicher. Instead, countries with high performing education systems tended to keep schools open longer than those with lower performing systems. Schleicher suggested that higher performing systems were better able to adapt to the challenges the pandemic posed. 

“In many ways, this pandemic has amplified many inequalities that were existing already in education,” he said. “Students from wealthier backgrounds often had access to great digital alternatives, they had often a very supportive environment at home,” Schleicher said. “And all of that was not present for many disadvantaged (students).”

Throughout OECD member countries, the number of young people who were not in education, employment, or training (NEET) increased from 2019 to 2020, as did unemployment. In the U.S. college graduates were harder hit than their less educated peers, perhaps because front-line jobs requiring only basic skills were in such high demand during the pandemic.

Looking beyond the pandemic’s immediate effects, the report finds the U.S. remains a big spender on education, with only four countries spending more per student than the U.S. But Schleicher suggests that “how money is spent is perhaps more important than just how much is being invested.”  

The U.S. spends over twice as much per student on higher education than it does for early childhood and basic education, and asks families to pay much more for it. 

While many countries have focused on improving access to early childhood education, OECD found the U.S. has much lower overall enrollment of 3-5 year olds at 64 percent, with wide variation among states with some states enrolling less than half and some 90 percent of young children. The OECD average is 87 percent, with nearly universal enrollment in Norway, Denmark, and Ireland.

The report introduces a new analysis indicator to track how countries are using equity criteria in their funding formulas to direct money to the neediest students. Schleicher noted that more countries are looking to target funding where there is the greatest need.

Finally, Mackay and Schleicher also discussed teacher pay, the largest single cost in formal education. U.S. teachers’ pay is structured differently from many jurisdictions, with teachers in many states making less salary but having more generous pension plans. Nevertheless, the gap between the pay of U.S. teachers and the pay of similarly educated workers is stark and may contribute to ongoing teacher shortages. According to Schleicher, the ratio of teacher pay to the pay of similarly educated workers in other fields is lower in the U.S. than in almost any other country, except Hungary.  

Schleicher and Mackay also touched on degree attainment and labor market outcomes for immigrants and gender gaps in education attainment, among other things.

See below for the full video of the webinar as well as slides from Schleicher’s presentation. And use the hashtag #OECDEAG to join the conversation on Twitter.