Are U.S. children getting the best education for the dollar?

From the first day of kindergarten to graduation from high school, schools in the United States invest nearly $139,000 for the average student’s education. That’s far less than some other developed countries.

That finding comes from a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that explores education systems in 46 nations, including the United States, to better understand what factors influence children’s access to the classroom.

The United States ranks 12th among the nations in terms of the total amount educational institutions spend per student. The next country, Australia, pays $142,000 per student. Luxembourg tops the list with nearly $248,000.

Developed nations spend an average of more than 5 percent of their gross domestic product on education, according to the report. The United States is a little above average, spending more than 6 percent of its GDP on education, putting it seventh on that list behind Costa Rica, the United Kingdom and Colombia.

Overall, nations need to make education more “inclusive and equitable” and do more to encourage lifelong learning in order to meet the world’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in education, which say — among other targets — that all girls and boys should attend free quality primary and secondary school, the report said.

“The world has really changed” for children’s access to education, said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees education research for the OECD.

A closer look at how nations spend those dollars reveals how countries prioritize and fund education differently — from per-student investment to teacher pay — and how varied student outcomes may be.

For example, U.S. middle school teachers’ salaries sit at the bottom of all OECD nations, behind only the Slovak Republic and Czech Republic.

But U.S. students sit in the classroom for more hours than nearly anywhere else — roughly 9,000 hours from kindergarten to eighth grade, according to the report.

The only countries where students receive more in-class instruction are Colombia, Denmark and Australia. Students in Hungary, Latvia and Russia spend the least amount of time in class among developed countries in the study.

And most U.S. children aren’t enrolled in preschool, despite research that suggests early childhood education provides a strong foundation for young students.

According to the OECD, four out of 10 3-year-olds are enrolled in pre-elementary education in the United States, which is about the same as Mexico. Both nations sit in the bottom 25 percent of countries analyzed.

By comparison, all French children are enrolled in pre-elementary education by age 3.

“The U.S. is really close to Mexico rather than most of the Atlantic leaders,” Schleicher said.

How much do education systems worldwide pay for the average student’s education?

    • $247,822


    • $231,497


    • $196,026


    • $165,166


    • $163,790

United Kingdom

    • $162,399


    • $162,045


    • $154,506


    • $146,672


    • $146,672


    • $141,556


    • $138,692

United States
Source: OECD

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