Was the USA ever No. 1 in education?

Was the USA ever No. 1 in education?

10/4/2012 • Ask Mr. History

Was the United States of America ever number one in world rankings in education?  If so, when did the ranking begin to change?

Thank you.

Larry Randolph

? ? ?

As recently as 20 years ago, the United States was ranked No.1 in high school and college education. Much of the boom in American education during the second half of the 20th century was fueled by the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which provided scholarships and student loans to veteran service personnel returning from World War II. Having matured on the battlefield, thousands of returning troops eagerly seized the opportunity to improve their postwar prospects in the civilian world, leading to a transformation of the American middle class in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 2009, the United States was ranked 18th out of 36 industrialized nations. Over that time, complacency and inefficiency, reflective of lower priorities in education, and inconsistencies among the various school systems contributed to a decline. The United States still ranks No.1 in the world’s higher education institutions (i.e., colleges), including their ability to help graduates transition into the job market, but the cost of higher education has become a challenge in itself. Concurrent with any even minor decline in American education, one has to consider the ambitious increases in education among the countries that have surpassed it. Another factor is the diversity of people entering the American educational melting pot. The top three leaders in general education, Finland, Japan and South Korea, have relatively smaller and much more homogeneous populations, making it easier to maintain a consistent standard.

Overall, the united States still has an excellent education system, even if it is not Number One … it simply has been surpassed by those of other rising countries.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History

27 Responses to Was the USA ever No. 1 in education?

  1. Jason says:

    The GI Bill was a way for veterens to obtain a college education or a trade. I’m not seeing how that relates to becoming #1 in high school education. You seperated them later in your piece but failed to explain why we were #1 in the 50’s and perhaps before.

    I have my opinions on why we are failing to even meet college admission goals. As more and more of the attendees are women and foreigners. Young men in this country are not “cool” if they are smart. Emphasis is placed on being entertained rather than promoting community involvement or self improvement. It gets worse year after year because kids #1 role model is their parent(s). Obviously if the parents get worse every generation then the kids will follow suit. It’s a vicous cycle and I don’t see it ending anytime soon.

  2. jew says:

    who cares noobes

  3. Dan says:

    How about some references for this information?

  4. Carl says:

    Jason does have a good question… I would like some more explanation of how our primary and secondary systems rose to prominance.

    As for his cultural comments, I do agree that the largest problems with our schools today is cultural. And this may explain the lag in performance amongst males vs females aswell.

    Whether you agree that is the situation now or not, are there possible historical parrallels?

    So that’s two questions, reaffirming Jasons and my own.

  5. Dan says:

    Read the article again. “..United States was ranked No.1 in high school and COLLLEGE education…”

  6. […] 3. United States education rank 28th in today’s world; a few decades ago, it was no. 1. […]

  7. […] years we’ve more than doubled spending on public ed, while our kids’ scores have stagnated. Once the number-one country for education, America’s high-school literacy rank is now at 24th […]

  8. Ernie says:

    On 11/20/2012 Dan asked for references to the claims made in the article. A year and a half later they still have not been posted. I suspect such data does not exist.

  9. Jason says:

    I was stating an opinion based on my observations. As I stated in my previous post. These observations are based on my relatives and their friends.

  10. progressiveishate says:

    BULL S.. it has been surpassed by Progressive liberal destruction of our education system. not because other countries got smarter they may have but with stupid unions that force us to keep the worst teachers on and not discipline at home or at school of students we will only get worse and with idiots like you writing crap like this intentionally misleading people you are the problem to. SCREW YOU.
    go read the WHY of the dept of re -education and see what carter said .. every point he made was a lie , facts are hard to lie about , that dept was created to dismantle the american school system. and it has done its job well .

  11. Mario Lombardi says:

    Department of education and Common Core… The decline in/dumbing down of American education is intentional. Dumbed down population is easier to control and manipulate

    • lissmth says:

      And Outcome Based Education (OBE), sight reading, new, new math, School-to-Work.

    • EmpressL says:

      That’s when the Mexican Incursion started. California spends $12,000,000,000 in Special Ed money to attempt to teach kids that are UNABLE to learn English!

  12. ConflictTheory says:

    Diane Ravitch wrote an article in 2011 in the Saturday Evening Post about testing and schools. Since testing began with 12 countries in the stats, the US was 12th of 12. We have never been “No.1 in high school ……”. I don’t know what the metric is you are basing this on. Test scores? If that if the case, then no.

    • reality truth says:

      Sounds like malarky. Almost all of my professors in the 70s and 80s (Ohio State and Georgia Tech) were American born. Department of Education was started in 1980 and outsourcing started then. So, yeah, maybe now we don’t do jack. But back then, USA was number one. And by the way, at Bell Labs, yeah they brought in the best from around the world. But most of the best came from the US. What happened to Bell Labs? The government basically crushed it and what was left was bought by a French company or some other foreign country. The DC swamp isn’t going to stop until we are a nationwide swamp, but armed with nuclear weapons.

      • ConflictTheory says:

        America was never number one on testing. Ever

      • reality truth says:

        Whatever. I walked the halls of the worlds number 1 research facility, Murray Hill. I got to look at the resume of the best in world class researchers. I met people from a global pool. By far Americans dominated. I was also invited to a meeting in the 80s at OSU where they discussed the plan to standardize engineering degrees to American quality

      • ConflictTheory says:

        I could care less. That has nothing to do with the statistical fact that the US has never been number one in standardized testing scores. And the racist statement about the immigrants embedded in there is meaningless. Even if you control for “whites”, we still have not have the number one global testing scores. Ever. IF you know some research, you should go do some about this.

      • reality truth says:

        You should do some research and realize the test scores reflect the diverse US population in its experience and culture, and also that it reflects the fact that in many countries, many don’t go to school and don’t get tested. And besides, the real issue was this myth about Americans not being smart compared to other places. Hmmm. People beat the doors down to get in because we are not smart enough to build some value.

      • ConflictTheory says:

        That’s pretty much what Ravitch concluded about test scores.

        I will post the piece and save you the trouble.


      • ConflictTheory says:

        I’ve done more educational research than you ever will, Trumpy.

      • reality truth says:

        Ad hominem attacks make you look bad. But to the main point, you did research. Research has its place, and data trumps opinion. But if you research is just research and not actually having to apply your knowledge to critically important and very high value developments, then you are just espousing a theory. My research is existence proof of having lived through decades of real hands on actions associated with creating real products of great value and importance. It also includes being the gate keeper and reviewer for up to a 1 000 applicants for hundreds of high technology application development, and also reviewing dozens of the best global talent applying for the world’s premiere research center. I am sure you wrote a good paper.

      • reality truth says:

        American had an open door and everyone had the right to try. So more people might fail. Other places cut you off early. So you never got far once you stumbled. And besides.Americans were wasting time trying rank with tests. You ever see people climbing walls to help someone cheat on exams on India? Just another way to pump up scores

  13. reality truth says:

    When did Jimmy Carter start the department of education? Oh yeah, that was 1980. How are we doing as the Dept. of Education budget started up? Hmmm. I remember having only 1 or 2 foreign born professors in electrical engineering in 1979 (actually, 1, Jagadeesh in Fortran). Good job Jimmy ol’ boy!

  14. Richard French says:

    Perhaps if the education system, (including higher education) was less political.

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