02/03/2012 04:15 pm ET | Updated Apr 04, 2012

Worst in the World in... Math?

Something caught my eye a few months ago. International standardized tests in mathematics now put U.S. students at or near the bottom, in the entire developed world.

Which is really odd, when you think about it. After all, 2+2=4 in New York, Tokyo, and everywhere else I know.

One recent exam (results here) put U.S. students 31st in the world in math -- just a few points higher than the very bottom among the OECD (i.e., developed) countries. One earlier exam, called TIMSS, had U.S. twelfth-graders at the very bottom of the OECD in math. So the government stopped giving that test to U.S. twelfth-graders.

Yes, that certainly solves that problem.

So why is this? Whatever the reason is, it certainly isn’t spending. In education, as in health, the United States spends more per capita than any other country.

The Economist, a conservative British news magazine, offered this illuminating explanation, from Oxford University:

“Despite rising attainment levels,” [the Oxford study] concludes, “there has been little narrowing of longstanding and sizeable attainment gaps. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds remain at higher risks of poor outcomes.” American studies confirm the point; Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington claims that “non-school factors,” such as family income, account for as much as 60% of a child’s performance in school.

So because America has the fifth most unequal distribution of wealth in the entire world, America also has some of the worst math scores in the entire world. It’s as simple as 2+2=4. No wonder the 99% is angry; it’s getting to the point where a lot of us don’t even know what “99%” means.

Why should we be surprised that the poor can’t count? In Mitt Romney’s America, they don’t count.

Honestly, we can’t go on like this.


Alan Grayson

P.S. The highest math scores in the world were in China. Communist China.