Shanghai Owns the International PISA Science Math Test

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Shanghai Pudong

Shanghai Pudong

Education Week came up with the usual “OMG America stinks” international test ranking, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stating the “results, to be brutally honest, show that a host of developed nations are outeducating us … Americans need to wake up to this educational reality.” But what caught my attention poring over and crunching the numbers was how newcomer Shanghai dominated the top scores. Chester E. Finn Jr. of one of my favorite conservative education think tanks the Thomas B. Fordham Institute said:

“Shanghai’s 15-year-olds topped those in every other jurisdiction in all three subjects,” he wrote on Flypaper, the Fordham Institute’s blog. “The 2009 testing cycle marked the first time that youngsters in China-proper participated. To be sure, it was only Shanghai, the country’s flagship city in so many ways, a single megalopolis on which Beijing has lavished much investment and attention, many favorable policies, and even (for China) a relatively high degree of freedom.”

Now Shanghai has historically been the snazziest city in China, and certainly makes LA look downright shabby, as even the freaking taxis and buses feature color LCD ads and the world’s fastest magna-levitating super train. Other Chinese locations such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Taipei were also near the top, ahead of or even with Japan or Korea (either of which still makes much cooler tech or cute Asian stuff than the Chinese, sorry) . The averages don’t really show how far ahead as much as the percentiles. Table M-3 shows that the Shanghai 50th percentile 608 score falls at the US 90th (that’s top 10 percent) 607. Even Singapore’s median of 551 falls somewhere around 80 or so. That would make these students comparable to some of the posh American suburbs Asians parents try to kill to get into, but on the other hand, pressure on kids might be even higher in Shanghai as much as Asian American kids complain about being pushed too hard.

Besides Asians, the top caucasians would be the “WE AMERICANS CAN’T BE BEAT BY THOSE !@#$%” Finns, followed by Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Canada which falls about at Japan, which is still mostly white even after Asians (brown and yellow) have taken over Vancouver. At the very bottom are places like Indonesia, Peru, Panama, fabulously wealthy Qatar, and where-in-the-heck-is the Kyrgyz Republic.

Download the report here

Here are science and math rankings
Science literacy scale 2009 by country

Shanghai        575
Finland         554
Hong Kong       549
Singapore       542
Japan           539
Korea           538
New Zealand     532
Canada          529
Estonia         528
Australia       527
Netherlands     522
Chinese Taipei  520
Liechtenstein   520
Germany         520
Switzerland     517
UK              514
Slovenia        512
Macao-China     511
United States   502
Mexico          416
Peru            369
Krygyz Republic 330

Math scores ranked
Shanghai-China  600     1
Singapore       562     2
Hong Kong-China 555     3
Korea, Republic 546     4
Chinese Taipei  543     5
Finland         541     6
Liechtenstein   536     7
Switzerland     534     8
Japan           529     9
Canada          527     10
Netherlands     526     11
Macao-China     525     12
New Zealand     519     13
Belgium         515     14
Australia       514     15
Germany         513     16
Estonia         512     17
Iceland         507     18
Denmark         503     19
Slovenia        501     20
Norway          498     21
France          497     22
Slovak Republic 497     23
Austria         496     24
Poland          495     25
Sweden          494     26
Czech Republic  493     27
United Kingdom  492     28
Hungary         490     29
Luxembourg      489     30
United States   487     31
Ireland         487     32
Portugal        487     33
Spain           483     34
Italy           483     35
Latvia          482     36
Lithuania       477     37
Russian Fed     468     38
Greece          466     39
Croatia         460     40
Dubai-UAE       453     41
Israel          447     42
Turkey          445     43
Serbia,         442     44
Azerbaijan      431     45
Bulgaria        428     46
Romania         427     47
Uruguay         427     48
Chile           421     49
Mexico          419     50
Thailand        419     51
Trinidad Tobago 414     52
Kazakhstan      405     53
Montenegto      403     54
Argentina       388     55
Jordan          387     56
Brazil          386     57
Colombia        381     58
Albania         377     59
Tunisia         371     60
Indonesia       371     61
Qatar           368     62
Peru            365     63
Panama          360     64
Kyrgyz Republic 331     65

About the Author

MIT electrical engineering computer science graduate has written conservative columns on politics, race / culture, science and education since the 70s in MIT The Tech and various publications in including New Republic and National Review.