Back to Next Generation

New Test Scores Show a Need for Investments in Early Education

The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, just released new data assessing the academic performance of 15 year-old students across 65 countries.

While it’s become something of a perennial trend, the Unites States trails behind many countries of similar economic development in mathematics and performs in the middle of the pack when it comes to science and reading literacy.  I agree with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, that these results depict “a picture of educational stagnation” considering previous years of PISA data for the United States.  

These trends are deeply connected to the quantity and quality of educational opportunities available to all children. But the results especially point to a need to improve early learning opportunities so that our students start school with the skills they need to continue to thrive.  In our Too Small to Fail Strategic Roadmap, we note:

Unfortunately, inequities on display in preschool and kindergarten largely persist throughout life. Most of the high school achievement gap between poor, middle-income and wealthy students is already visible by kindergarten. And the children who have weak pre-literacy and numeracy skills in kindergarten are, on average, the same children with weak vocabulary and math skills in seventh grade.

There is very clear evidence that early education, together with the implementation of rigorous Common Core academic standards in K-12, can make a large difference in overcoming the stagnation we’re seeing in the academic performance of older students.

Among children from highly developed countries that attended at least a year of preschool, PISA scores were 53 points higher in mathematics –equivalent to more than a year of schooling.

In fact, countries like China and India are already dramatically expanding access to preschool, reflecting a growing consensus for preschool that transcends political ideologies and geographic boundaries. In Shanghai, where students are the top performers in mathematics and in the top five countries of highest performers for reading and science, 98 percent of children attend preschool.

But early education is not just about what is learned in preschool. Learning in the earliest years is heavily reliant on parents and caregivers.  In fact, recent research shows, that by the time children are two-years old there is already wide gaps in their language comprehension and by the age of three, children from lower-income families have learned an average of only 500 words compared to 1100 words for children from higher income families.

Today’s PISA scores tell us that to remain competitive in a global marketplace we need to recognize that investments in early education paired with deep parental involvement, and a strong focus on the distribution of school resources, will lay the foundation for achievement in school, college, career, and life.

Join the Conversation