According to the 2016 Pearson rankings of the best education systems in the world, the United States ranks 14th on the list. South Korea, Japan and Singapore rank first, second, and third respectively.

Compulsory education is not mandated in each of the 196 countries that exist throughout the world, and among those countries in which children are required to attend school, it is not always a requirement that students attend school for a specific number of days each academic year, as is the case in the United States.

Compulsory education in the United States is traced back to philosophies that evolved during the Reformation. In 1524 Martin Luther proposed that mandatory school laws should be enacted so that Christians could learn to read the Bible on their own. Massachusetts passed a similar law in 1647 while still a British colony; and then in 1852, it was the first state to enact a compulsory education law. Parents who refused this new requirement could be (and sometimes were) stripped of their parental rights.

Following the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Britain’s former colonies that had broken away from Europe were finally recognized as the United States of America: a new nation. Over time new states were added across North America and the once thirteen colonies because independent states– what we now know as the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

United States Demographics

  • Population: 323,995,528
  • Ethnicity*: White (79.96%), Black (12.85%), Asian (4.43%), Amerindian and Alaska native (0.97%), native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander (0.18%), Two or more races (1.61%).
  • Languages: English (79.2%), Spanish (12.9%), other Indo-European (3.8%), Asian and Pacific Island (3.3%)

*Statistics were gathered from the CIA Factbook. The ethnicity categories listed above are exactly as outlined in the Factbook. Data for hispanic/latino groups is not provided because members of these groups can also belong to the ethnic categories listed above, according to the Factbook. (If you’re interested in my rant on why I think this data/analysis is problematic, please stay tuned). 

Policy Issues in Education
Education policy issues are infinite, and there is very little agreement among educators, policy makers, and parents as to the kind of reform most needed. However, there has been considerable debate regarding the following issues in education:

  • National Curriculum/ Common Core: Do we need a national curriculum? How will these changes affect existing curriculum? Does this impede states’ rights?
  • Standardized Testing & Assessments: How do we collect and use data to demonstrate students’ gains? How can we achieve the best results for leadership, teachers, and students?
  • Teacher Quality (Certification & Accountability): How do we best prepare educators to be effective in schools? How do we hold teachers accountable for student progress? Should we?
  • Financing Schools: How should we fund education? How do we ensure that all schools have sufficient resources and staffing? How do we ensure that each school can meet students’ needs, regardless of the student’s culture, background, or disability status?

National Rankings 
Within the United States, school policies vary from region to region and state to state. National rankings provide insight into the best practices and systems of higher-performing schools. United States’ highest-performing education systems, by state, are listed below:

  1. Massaschusetts
  2. New Jersey
  3. Connecticut
  4. Vermont
  5. Wisconsin
  6. New Hampshire
  7. Virginia
  8. Maine
  9. Delaware
  10. Minnesota

Given the United States’ prominence and relative wealth as a nation, why does our education system rank so far behind other countries? What can we do, or what should be done, to improve education in the United States?

Do you agree that these are the most prominent issues in education? If not, what is your philosophy of education? What are your thoughts on education reform? What should we change? What are the top priorities?





2 thoughts on “United States Education (We’re Number… 14?)

    1. Thank you! My issue is that the categories listed (white, black, etc.) are not ethnic categories, they’re racial ones (but they’re listed under the ethnicity section). Curious. Since race is a social construction, I find it interesting that the one ethnic category relating to Hispanic/Latino origin is not included under that heading.

      Also, without including Hispanic/Latino under ethnic categories, it allows the percentages to show that our nation’s majority is still primarily white. This has been changing fairly rapidly; but the data, as it’s presented, undermines that fact.


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