At least once a year some organization comes up with a report comparing US students with those in other industrialized nations. As in the past, this year’s report says the test scores of American kids in math, reading, and science are lower than some other countries and higher than others. Plus, we spend more per student than any of the other country.

So, what does this prove? Actually, very little but it makes great headline fodder for newspapers and talking head channels. I haven’t seen the whole report but there were a couple of items in the articles that stood out as significant and which didn’t make it into the "expert" sound bites.

  • The $10,240 per student spent in the US includes college expenses, not just K12. I’d be curious how many of these countries send large numbers of students to study in US universities.
  • That $10,240 is, of course, an average. With the thousands of school systems, colleges and private schools in the US the amount spent for any particular student varies widely in contrast to many of these countries which have a more consistent central funding for their schools.
  • Aside from money, note that almost all the countries to which we were compared have a national curriculum for students in grades K12. This is in marked contrast to the 50+ different curriculums in the US. If we seriously want to test and compare students nationally, much less internationally, we also need to have a national curriculum.
  • Just comparing money totals tells you nothing. Take a look at where the money is spent. I’d be willing to bet that there is a lot of waste to be found, especially at the national level.

Finally, from the cynical side of my warped little mind, a question. Why do so many people question any comparison of the US to other countries (especially France, where the organization producing this report is based) but willingly – even anxiously – accept this particular study at face value? Just asking.