In some European countries there is much talk about the latest OECD report on the success of education, the 2004 PISA study. I looked up the original scoretables, which list the scores, error margin of the scores, and (because of the latter) the rank range of 40 countries participating in the survey; scores corresponding to four fields: maths, reading, science, problem solving.
The headline stuff is: Finland on the top, Far Eastern Asia close behind, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Switzerland and tiny Liechtenstein also doing fine - as usual; only big change since the 2000 survey is Poland moving up much (from the worst to the middle).
The ranking of one country in whose media there ain't much talk about the results: 28th (with error margin 25th-28th) in maths, 18th (12th-23rd) in reading, 22nd (20th-27th) in science, 29th (26th-30th) in problem solving. Yes, this was the USA.
Despite a marked decline in the quality of the school system since the end of communism (funny that...), my home country Hungary beats the USA in all but one fields: 25th (22nd-27th) in maths (and this was once the one big strength of Hungarian state education!...), 25th (24th-28th) in reading, 17th (14th-19th) in science, 20th (18th-22nd) in problem solving.
Another country whose education system I know from the inside, and which by direct comparison I can say was in most fields behind Hungary's at the time (that is: almost two decades ago) is Germany: 19th (17th-21st) in maths, 21st (15th-24th) in reading, 18th (14th-21st) in science, 16th (13th-18th) in problem solving.
It is noteworthy that the US's ranking is highest in the field where there are the least big score differences, reading - in this field, I suspect, for Europeans we see the unfortunate side effects of having the Cellphone Generation. Also note that among EU members, the worst scores are usually not that of new members but that of the Mediterranean countries, while Luxemburg and Latvia usually come as the next worst. Denmark's low score in science is also noteworthy - the effect or cause of the high career of a certain Bjørn Lomborg?...
(BTW, this and the previous story via Josh Narins. Error corrections 16/02/2004.)