07/10/2013 11:43 am ET Updated Sep 09, 2013

Declining Educational Attainment

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a nonpartisan, international policy Institute which collects and analyzes data and recommends public policies, has issued the latest edition of its education-focused annual report, "Education at a Glance."

This report is significant since it includes data gathered following the 2008 worldwide recession, a period of high unemployment, across the organization's 40 member and partner countries, including the United States.

The key findings contained in the report are not based upon any specific set of standardized test results, something that should please the many critics of standardized testing. But, this report should challenge those Americans who remain in denial regarding the deteriorating quality of American education as compared to the rest of the world.

One key finding involves the percentage of each country's adults who have completed high school and those who attended and/or graduated from college, a measure universally accepted as one of the critical yardsticks in assessing a country's quality of life.

The good news is that the United States continues to have the fifth highest percentage of adults age 25 to 64 who have a college degree.

However, the U.S. has dropped to rank 12 among the 37 OECD and partner countries surveyed for those aged 25 to 34 who graduated from college, Thus, the rest of the developed world has an ever-increasing educated population as compared to the United States. That affects earnings and income inequality.

If anyone still questions the relationship between a college education and being employed, the importance of a college degree has been underscored during the recent recession which saw worldwide unemployment grow by leaps and bounds, including in the United States where unemployment still remains almost 8 percent.

This OECD report found across its member countries unemployment rates were nearly 3 times higher among those who failed to get a high school diploma as compared to those who completed college.

Clearly, with higher levels of education come better prospects for employment. During the recent recession those without a high school diploma faced a 2011 unemployment rate of 16.2 percent while those with a college education had a 4.9 percent rate.

As regards earnings, the United States was in the top four countries that saw the greatest difference in earnings between those with a college education and those who merely graduated from high school; 77 percent higher!

Our failure as a country to have students graduate from high school, attend college and graduate from college is taking its toll. Is it not time to accept that we are falling behind in educational attainment; that educational attainment is correlated with higher income and increased income equality; and that the nation's economic competitiveness, and thus our quality of life, is dependent upon an educated citizenry?

Something has to change in the way we educate our elementary and high school students. The current instructional paradigm is broken.