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International Survey Finds U.S. Lagging in Early-Childhood Education

By guest blogger Lovey Cooper

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has just released its annual "Education at a Glance" report, an encyclopedic collection of education-related statistics across 46 countries, and the new numbers show the United States trailing the world in preschool education.

With only 66 percent of American 4-year-olds currently enrolled in early-childhood education, the United States falls well behind the average for developed countries at a time of an increasing global focus on early learning.In 2013, an average of 88 percent of 4-year-olds over all the countries surveyed were enrolled, compared with 72 percent in 2005.

"There is increasing awareness of the key role that early childhood-education plays in the cognitive and emotional development of the young," the report states. "As a result, ensuring the quality of early- childhood education and care has become a policy priority in many countries."

While enrollment figures for American 3- and 4-year-olds didn't change much from 2005 to 2013, the OECD averages went up significantly.
The report also found that 15-year-old students who had at least one year of preprimary education did better on an OECD international assessment test than those who did not.

"The dream of 'quality education for all' is not yet a reality," said OECD Secretary-General Angel GurrĂ­a at the launch of the report in Paris. "Lack of a quality education is the most powerful form of social exclusion and prevents people from benefitting from economic growth and social progress."

Among other findings:

  • The teaching force is aging across all OECD countries. In 2013, 36 percent of secondary school teachers were 50 or older, up 3 percentage points from 2005.
  • For all levels of education combined, 25- to 64-year-old women in the United States earned 73 percent of what men earned in 2013, below the OECD average of 80 percent.
  • On average, OECD countries spent $8,247 per primary student per year and $9,518 on high school students in 2012. U.S. average spending was $11,030 and $12,442, respectively.
  • In most OECD countries, education now begins for most children well before they are 5 years old. Some 74% of 3-year-olds are enrolled in education across the OECD and 80% of European Union member OECD countries.
  • More than half of children enrolled in early-childhood development programs across all surveyed countries attend private institutions.
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