The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an organization of 34 of the most developed countries in the world, released its annual survey on education last week. And it should come as no surprise that the United States out-spends other nations on education each year even though our students continually fall behind other countries academically.
The United States spent more than $11,000 on each elementary student and more than $12,000 on each high school student in 2010, the most recent year studied by OECD. But factor in additional educational costs such as college or vocational training and the price totals more than $15,000 per student, taking the U.S. to the top of the list. But how does that compare to other OECD countries?
The OECD nations averaged $9,313 per individual student. But some nations fell far behind the U.S. in educational spending. Mexico, for example, averaged just below $3,000 for every student. Other countries were neck-and-neck with us. Take Switzerland, which spent $14,922 on each of its students.
The average OECD nation spent 6.3% of their gross domestic product on education, but the we topped this by spending over 7% of GDP on education. But federal funding only accounts for 70% of the total amount spent on education in the United States. Parents pay another 25%, with private sources covering the remaining 5%.
Money Does Not Equal Success
Those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Although we’re one of the top spenders in education, other OECD nations continually outperform American students on international assessments. According to the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study, our fourth graders ranked 11th in the world in math, while our eighth graders fared only slightly better, ranking 9th in the world.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Program for International Student Assessment ranked the United States 31st in math literacy – well below the international average. And we ranked 23rd in science among the same students.
Teacher Unions Put in Their “Two Cents”
Now that the report has been published, the unions are ready to fight. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, commented that, “When people talk about other countries out-educating the United States, it needs to be remembered that those other nations are out-investing us in education as well.” In other words, she’s saying that our students fall behind because the United States doesn’t pay our teachers enough.
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The OECD report agrees that teacher pay is an important element in education: “Teachers’ salaries represent the largest single cost in formal education and have a direct impact on the attractiveness of the teaching profession,” the report states. “Since compensation and working conditions are important for attracting, developing and retaining skilled and high-quality teachers, policy makers should carefully consider teachers’ salaries as they try to ensure both quality teaching and sustainable education budgets.” So, how do we rank among other OECD nations in teacher pay?
The first-year high school teacher salary in the U.S. averages $38,000 – That’s $7,000 more than the average $31,000 among OECD nations. Luxemburg, however, starts its high school teachers at nearly double the U.S. with a first-year salary of a whopping $72,000. But the figures are scattered and fall all across the spectrum. Slovakia pays its first-year high school teachers only $10,000. The average high school teacher in America makes $53,000 annually, well above the OECD average of $45,500. But when you look at the numbers closely, it’s easy to see that United States teacher salaries are competitive.
We’re certainly among the nations spending the most on education, but our students still fall behind other countries around the world. And it isn’t easy to determine why.
It’s likely that numerous culprits are responsible. For one, we’re continuing to perpetuate the problematic nature of the system we have in place. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot when we don’t base teacher salary on quality of teaching. We allow politics to muddy and degrade our education system, which ultimately prevents actually improving the education of America’s students… And thus, the dominoes continue to cascade.
In pursuit of the truth,