The US Education System in Comparison with Global Education


Education, being the process of receiving knowledge and skills through learning, is considered to be the most important factor determining a successful future. Every three years, the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) holds tests to identify the levels of education among 15-year-old children in the world (“How Does the U.S. Compare in Global Education?”). Many experts and authorities take these rankings into consideration in order to assess the system in the United States. The data shows that average U.S. scores in reading literacy and science are equal to the results of other countries, while the figures in math are lower (UTRGV). Many experts are concerned that in case a position is below average, it will have a significant impact on the future status of the country. There have been numerous critics of the education system in the United States, implying that students here underperform, and spend little time at school, while teachers are not worthily treated and paid. As a result, the education system in the United States is generally ranked high in the global community, although there are many less-than-ideal aspects.

The US Education System Features

Elementary Education

The children in the United States tend to begin attending school later, than kids in other countries. According to the research, most of the students in France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom started education by the age of four years, while in the United States it is the age of six (Sparks). Elementary schools usually teach children from kindergarten, which is typically considered to be an educational program for early childhood, till grade five. Traditionally, the programs for younger kids were aimed at development, providing learning through play. However, recently, it became more academic with a focus on basic reading and math skills, science, art, and music. When children go to the first grade, they begin receiving full-time education. Elementary school students usually receive instruction from one teacher for the entire year, but for certain subjects, they may have different specialists.

Secondary Education

Middle or junior high school usually starts at the age of eleven, from the sixth grade to the eighth, while high schools last from the ninth to twelfth. In most institutions, students have five or six classes a day and specialist teachers for each subject. The schedule is typically unique for each individual, and the parents, school counselor, and students are all involved in the decision-making process that takes into consideration the student’s interests, professional goals, and academic ability” (Loo 81). This makes the American system of secondary education unique, compared to other countries, as it allows considering personal interests and skills of children, The typical curriculum of the middle and high schools is represented by English, science, mathematics, fine arts, social studies, and physical education.

Secondary education in the United States has its strong and weak points. According to the research of the PISA, the country continues to experience difficulties with math, a subject predicting children’s future income level. Ripley states that around 30% of American 15-year-olds fail to show even baseline skills (22). The data also showed that the US’ most advantaged teenagers demonstrated worse performance in science than their peers in 20 other countries, including Canada and Britain (Ripley 23). Such countries as Estonia, Canada, Denmark and Hong Kong, demonstrate that it is possible to do much better by teaching their children these disciplines by showing higher results than the United States. However, an advantage of the American secondary education system is its availability. Other nations might have higher assessments on science and math, for example, India which steadily produces many scientists and engineers in the global economy. Nevertheless, compared to the United States, education is not a priority in India since less than half of Indian children complete secondary education (UTRGV 9). American secondary education continues to be ranked high due to its accessibility for all the students.

Higher Education

The system of higher education in the United States is diverse. It provides more than 4,500 accredited degree-granting institutions all over the country (Loo). There are also a big number of private universities and colleges. According to the estimations, in 2015, there were approximately 30 percent of accredited public institutions. The American universities have been highly ranked since their appearance, and they continue to have a good reputation, although other countries, such as China, are increasing their potential, and they begin to rise in the rankings. In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of 2018, almost half of the 100 top-ranked universities are U.S. institutions (Loo 165). Due to the reputation and diversity of the American higher education system, the country is among the leaders for attracting students from all over the world.

Controversies of the Education System in the United States

Student Mobility and Transnational Education in the United States

The international student market is growing fast, and the United States also plays a huge part in this process. The country is among the leaders in the number of students coming for education purposes. For example, in the academic year of 2016 and 2017, it welcomed 1,078,822 international students, which made it the country with the biggest share of globally mobile students worldwide (Loo 8). However, such states as Australia, Germany, and China are trying to overtake. Additionally, the United States faces the possibility of losing its dominance in the international student market due to the fact that the country is treating immigrants and foreigners in an unwelcoming manner. The data showed that the total number of international students was on a slight decline between 2017 and 2018 (Loo 9). However, the country still remains attractive for those who desire to receive a good education and career opportunities.

One of the main reasons for coming to study in the United States, which is usually cited by the student, is the availability of numerous programs. Nevertheless, people from different countries may have various priorities, for example, Chinese students are attracted by reputation. Another factor, often influencing the choice of an education facility, is career opportunities, as there are ways for staying longer in the United States for work. However, today the attractiveness of the education system decreases, as there are also numerous reasons keeping immigrants away from the country. Among the influencing factors are the anti-immigrant policy initiated by the White House, the detraction of certain groups such as Mexicans, mass shootings and violence, and the increase in delays and denials for visas. This way, there are many reasons against immigration to the United States, which influences the economy of the country in the global perspective, decreasing the attractiveness of its education system.

Academic Performance and Time Spent at School

The amount of time students spend in the classroom is examined by the same organization that coordinates PISA. According to the estimates, American students spend fewer days at school annually when compared to their peers abroad, which creates an impression that U.S. students spend less time in school (UTRGV 4). However, it is difficult to compare this education system to other countries, as each state sets standards for minimum instructional time, while in the rest of the world such regulations are typically organized at the national level. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, among the 33 most developed nations, the average annual instructional time was 790 hours for primary school, ranging from 470 hours in Russia to 1,007 hours in Chile) (Snyder 41). For the students of middle school in the United States, the required quantity of academic hours per year increased to 925, while in Sweden it is 741, and in Mexico, it is 1,167 (Snyder 45). Thus, although students in the United States may have fewer days for attending school, they may receive more instructional hours.

One of the important features of the American education system is the assessment system for students’ performance. The universities in the country use numerous methods, such as presentations, quizzes, discussion, and others. On the basis of these tasks, a substantial part of the grade is given at a final exam, thus, making the assessment system in the United States continuous. Other countries, for example, the United Kingdom and Russia, are more concentrated on lectures and exams, having the big final exam as a major and more significant portion of the grade.

In terms of academic performance, math, science, and reading are weak points of the education system in the United States. Many other countries, such as Finland, show better results, but there are also regions showing much worse performance, as well. According to the Brookings report, the latest TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Assessment) test in 2015 suggests a historical improvement in American students’ scores in the two decades of U.S. tests (Tures 9). In general, the estimation of American students’ performance is usually average, or below. Massachusetts, which is considered to be the highest-achieving state of the country, has shown results above the average national PISA score, but even this region lags two years of formal schooling behind Shanghai (Desilver). The international tests show that the United States has many improvements to be made, but it still has many advantages to offer and remains a popular destination for educational purposes.

Public Perception of Teachers

Another important point for comparing education globally is the public perception of teachers, who have a huge impact on the students, identifying their potential success or failure. According to the study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, students taught by high-value teachers have better life outcomes with regard to academic achievement and projected income (Topchyan and Woehler 5). As follows from the annual Gallup polls, Americans appreciate the representatives of this profession, however, educators experience a decrease in job satisfaction (UTRGV). This situation is usually connected with changes in government policies regarding the education system. In comparison with other countries, teachers in the United States are not allowed to participate in decision-making affecting their schools. According to the research by the American Federation of Teachers, 93% of teachers experience high levels of stress, and they claim that 61% of the working time is stressful (Bruno). Thus, an attitude toward educators in the United States is ambivalent, and it makes it difficult to estimate their real status in society.

Moreover, many educators think that their salaries prove their profession is underestimated. When comparing expenditures of different industrialized countries on teacher salaries, the United States is behind Canada, France and Korea. For example, in secondary schools, salaries make up more than half (55.3%) of total expenses in the education budget, which is lower than the average of 62.8% for industrialized countries (UTRGV 6). It suggests that teacher salaries are not the highest priority for budgets in the United States. Moreover, the country spends more than most countries on other school staff, including administrators. This way, teachers in the United States generally receive a salary, which is smaller than the payment made to people, providing other services at school.

A drastic measure, important for the improvement of the education system in the United States, is recruiting high-quality teachers, as it is the major factor for achieving better results of student performance. According to the Beginning School, teachers’ assessment of students’ behavior shaped their academic outcomes four years later and affected their intention to drop out of school (Longobardi 1988). It proves that the educators’ impact on children is crucial for their future success in studying. Other developed countries, such as Korea, Singapore, and Finland, hire highly educated cadres as school teachers and elevate the status of the profession in society (Topchyan and Woehler 10; Sung and Lee 164). Thus, the most important issue is the recognition that highly qualified teachers are essential in every classroom. Considering the fact that teachers are crucial to society, their value is the key factor showing the government and society’s concerns about the system of education.

The Cost and Expenses for Education in the United States

Education in the United States is expensive, compared to other countries. The average annual cost at a public university is approximately $20,000. In order to afford a diploma, most American students take loans. For comparison, in countries, such as Germany, Sweden, Argentina, and Turkey, students are allowed to receive high education for free. In Denmark, the availability of education is different since the country pays its students grants of approximately $900 per month to help them cover living expenses while they are receiving a degree (Hess). Moreover, the United States spends a lot of money on its students, ranking fifth in expenses per individual. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland are ahead on this list. To give an example, the Slovak Republic, whose academic results are similar to the U.S., spends two times less per student than the U.S.: $53,000 and $115,000 respectively (Desilver). Thus, American education is one of the most expensive in the world, making students take loans, and forcing them to collect multiple debts.


The education system in the United States plays a vital role in the society and economy. The country is unique in its compulsory academic system, providing a quality public school background to every child, as the level of education is the crucial element defining the person’s future life and success. However, in comparison with other countries, the performance of students in the United States remains average, or even lower in such subjects as math, science, and reading. Moreover, the country is seriously different in the global perspective in regard to the cost of its education, as it is rather expensive and often pushes students into debt. However, the United States remains attractive for students from all over the world, as it provides opportunities for receiving the desired degree. Meanwhile, the current government policy creates obstacles for people, intending to come to this country for studying. It makes experts fear that it may lead to a loss of popularity of American education, which will have a negative influence on the whole economy.

Works Cited

Bruno, Robert. “When Did the U.S. Stop Seeing Teachers as Professionals?” Harvard Business Review, 2018. Web.

Drew, Desilver. “U.S. Students’ Academic Achievement Still Lags that of Their peers in Many Other Countries.” Pew Research, 2017. Web.

Hess Abigail. “Here’s How Much It Costs to Go to College in the US Compared to Other Countries.” CNBC, 2017. Web.

“How Does the U.S. Compare in Global Education?” The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, 2016.

Longobardi, Claudio, et al. “Student-Teacher Relationships as a Protective Factor for School Adjustment During the Transition from Middle to High School.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 7, 2016, p. 1988.

Loo, Bryce. “Education in the United States of America.” World Education News + Reviews, 2018. Web.

Ripley, Amanda. “What America Can Learn From Smart Schools in Other Countries.” The New York Times, 2016. Web.

Snyder, Thomas D., et al. “Digest of Education Statistics 2017, NCES 2018-070.” National Center for Education Statistics, 2019. Web.

Sparks, Sarah D. “Five Ways U.S. Education Differs From Other G-20 Countries.” Education Week, 2016. Web.

Sung, Youl-Kwan, and Yoonmi Lee. “Is the United States Losing Its Status as a Reference Point for Educational Policy in the Age of Global Comparison? The Case of South Korea.” Oxford Review of Education, vol. 43, no. 2, 2017, pp. 162-179.

Topchyan, Ruzanna, and Carol Woehler. “Do Teacher Status, Gender, and Years of Teaching Experience Impact Job Satisfaction and Work Engagement?” Education and Urban Society, 2020, 1-27.

Tures, John A. “How American Students Truly Rank in International Testing.” Observer, 2018. Web.

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