International Competitiveness

“All over the world, countries are managing to do dramatically better while spending less money per student than we are.”
- Amanda Ripley

Among the most pressing human concerns of our time is the need for meaningful, satisfying work. Not only do many today not find meaning in their work; many today are not able to find a job. There are three billion people worldwide competing for 1.2 billion full-time jobs, according to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton. If U.S. students hope to secure fulfilling job opportunities in a globalized economy, they must be academically prepared, especially in the areas of math and science.

Unfortunately, international assessments reveal that most U.S. students – even those in the best schools – are not equipped to compete with their international counterparts. U.S. students are stuck at average or below, while students in several other nations and advanced economies are making significant, widespread academic advances, much faster than the United States. The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an exam administered to more than half-a-million students in 65 nations and territories, found U.S. 15 year olds turned in an average performance in literacy and science, while in math they lag behind students in 25 other countries.

Research demonstrates a correlation between human capital, academic achievement, and national prosperity. If U.S. mathematics test scores rose just to the level of those in Canada, the resulting growth would generate an additional $77 trillion to the economy over the next 80 years, according to a 2012 study conducted by researchers from Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Munich.

U.S. per-student spending and individual self-esteem are among the highest in the world. But schools in other nations are doing a better job preparing their students for an increasingly competitive global job market. Unless U.S. schools begin to measure their performance against schools in other nations and take corresponding steps to improve, rising generations of Americans will have fewer opportunities and a lower standard of living.



Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is America’s most rigorous in-school program for developing students’ capabilities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to meet the challenges of a global economy. PLTW provides cost-effective programs to 750,000 children in 6,500 schools.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development administers the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial international survey that evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, who represent the fruition of educational systems and are a good proxy for the cognitive capabilities being taken into the economy.

America Achieves partnered with the OECD in 2012 to pilot the PISA exam in 105 U.S. high schools and helped recruit 302 schools to participate in 2013. PISA is now available to every U.S. high school and schools that participate can join America Achieves’ Global Learning Network.

The Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University has done extensive research on the performance of American schools as compared to that of other nations. PEPG’s latest work is Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School.