New Report Shows U.S. Lagging on Education Indicators

U.S. schools lag their foreign peers on some counts, but U.S. college grads get big financial boosts.

Levels of formaldehyde and several other contaminants in some California day care centers exceed state health guidelines, according to a new study.

Levels of formaldehyde and several other contaminants in some California day care centers exceed state health guidelines, according to a new study.

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A new report shows that Americans are lagging behind their peers in education, but are still reaping big benefits from their diplomas.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's 2012 Education at a Glance report shows that the U.S. falls behind many of its peers, and below OECD averages on several measures of educational progress. Below are a few of the measures on which the U.S. is falling behind.

High School Graduation

Out of 27 countries, the U.S. ranks No. 22 on this measure, with a 2010 high school graduation rate of 77 percent. That's well below the OECD average of 84 percent, but well above countries at the very bottom of the ladder, like Mexico (47 percent graduation rate) and Turkey (54 percent). Still, a 77 percent graduation rate is an improvement over 2000, when the U.S. secondary school graduation rate was 70 percent.

Early Childhood Education

In some countries, virtually all 4-year-olds are enrolled in some form of early-childhood or primary education. France, The Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, and Belgium all report the highest enrollment, at or near 100 percent. The U.S., however, reports that 69 percent of its 4-year-olds are in school, below even the OECD average of 81 percent.

Teacher Salaries

In the U.S., high school teachers can expect to earn roughly 72 percent as much as all U.S. college graduates age 25 to 64 earn, on average. The OECD average is 90 percent, and a few countries are far higher: in Spain, teachers earn 138 percent of what college grads earn. Still, it could be much worse. In the Slovak Republic, the ratio is 45 percent.

Interestingly, U.S. teachers are paid significantly less than their foreign counterparts, but tend to teach more. U.S. high school teachers spend around 1,050 hours a year teaching, behind only Argentina and Chile. However, as OECD Deputy Director for Education Andreas Schleicher pointed out Monday, this doesn't take into account teachers' duties outside of the classroom, which could mean that several other countries' teachers work more than their U.S. counterparts, though the data may not reflect it.

Educational Mobility

The children of less-educated parents in the U.S. have a tougher time climbing the educational ladder than in other countries. Out of 28 countries, the U.S. ranked 26th in terms of the odds of these students going to college. The odds ratio, a measure of statistical association, is 0.29 for these students going to college, compared to a 0.44 OECD average. At the top of the spectrum, Iceland's odds ratio is an impressive 0.83, nearly three times the rate of the children in the U.S.

Still, there is one key advantage that Americans have over many other OECD countries, and it's one major reason why people go to school in the first place:


Education pays off in the U.S. more so than many other countries. A college education earns a person around $19,000 more than someone with a high school education in the U.S., putting it above all other countries studied by the OECD, when earnings are adjusted for purchasing power parity (a measure of currencies' values relative to one another). Other countries that come close are Luxembourg (nearly $18,000) and the Czech Republic ($15,500), as well as the United Kingdom, Austria, and the Netherlands, all with income differences of over $12,000. The average advantage for OECD countries is much lower, at around $8,900.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at