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Why Doesn’t the U.S. Top the PISA Ranking?

Dennis Van Roekel: We must acknowledge that the effects of poverty are pervasive

Washington, DC - December 03, 2013 -

Earlier today the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test of literacy, mathematics, and science given every three years to fifteen-year-olds in more than sixty countries worldwide. The United States’ scores have not significantly changed since the last time the report was released in 2009.

Below is a statement from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

“The United States’ standings haven’t improved dramatically because we as a nation haven’t addressed the main cause of our mediocre PISA performance – the effects of poverty on students.

“Our students from well-to-do families have consistently done well on the PISA assessments. For students who live in poverty, however, it’s a different story. Socioeconomic factors influence students’ performance in the United States more than they do in all but few of the other PISA countries.

“It’s time for our nation to face up to that challenge, and we must start by acknowledging that the effects of poverty are pervasive. Children can’t learn in school if they lack nutritious food, a safe place to sleep or access to health care, and our society must address those needs.  

“What else do the high-performing nations do differently? They invest in early childhood education.  They fully fund all of their schools.  They make the teaching profession attractive and they support their teachers. They value the collaboration between parents, educators, administrators, communities and elected officials.

“One step in the right direction for our country has been the adoption by 46 states and the District of Columbia of the Common Core State Standards.  The new standards are a game-changer for the students in our nation’s public school system. The standards establish the same bar for all students, no matter their parents' income or geography. If properly implemented and resourced, they will help to ensure that all students graduate high school ready for college, the work force, and citizenship.

“NEA recently released the Great Public Schools (GPS) Indicators Framework to help parents, policy makers and educators determine if their school has policies and practices in place to make it “great.” The framework focuses on critical factors including School Readiness, Standards and Curriculum, and School Funding.

“Changes need to be made to improve the quality of education our children are receiving. Using some of the GPS indicators to compare our system to that of the high-performing countries will point in the direction in which we need to head to move our students onto the path of success and the United States to the top of lists like the PISA Rankings. Let’s move forward and make those changes to better serve our students today and tomorrow.”


To learn more about the GPS Indicators

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Watch all day webinar “Beyond the PISA Rankings”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.


CONTACT: Celeste Busser
(202) 822-7823,