America’s Students Continue to Struggle in Math: A Broken Education System

Declining math scores on international assessments highlight the deep-rooted issues within the American education system.

The latest results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) have revealed a significant decline in math scores among American students. Despite a massive influx of approximately $200 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, the education system continues to falter. This downward trend raises serious concerns about the effectiveness of current educational policies and the allocation of resources. It is clear that the system is broken and in dire need of reform.

The Impact of Funding on Test Scores

Even with such a substantial injection of funds, the PISA results show a 13-point drop in math scores, along with slight declines in reading and science. This decline occurred despite the belief that underfunding was the primary issue plaguing the education system. If this were the case, the infusion of funds should have made a noticeable difference. However, the data suggests that the problem runs deeper than mere financial support.

Learning Loss and the PISA Test

The PISA test, administered in 2022, was conducted shortly after the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Both tests assessed students’ math abilities, with the PISA focusing on eighth graders and the NAEP on 15-year-old students. If students were indeed recovering from learning loss, the PISA scores should have shown improvement compared to the NAEP scores. Unfortunately, the drop in PISA scores was even steeper, indicating that the learning loss issue persists.

Misleading Interpretations

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona attempted to put a positive spin on the results, claiming that the United States had moved up in the world rankings. However, this improvement was primarily due to other countries experiencing even greater declines in test scores. The Biden administration’s bold investments and efforts did not seem to have a significant impact on improving student performance. It is crucial to acknowledge the reality of the situation rather than relying on misleading interpretations.

Global Competitiveness

The PISA results reveal that American students are being outperformed by their peers in countries such as Singapore, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Estonia, Macao, and Canada in all three core subjects. The United States currently ranks ninth in reading, 34th in math, and 16th in science. These rankings are far from satisfactory if America aims to lead in the 21st century. With only 7% of American students reaching the top tier of math achievement, it is evident that urgent changes are needed to ensure future success in the global economy.

The Cost of Mismanagement

The consequences of educational mismanagement are severe. Economist Eric Hanushek estimates that school closures and the resulting learning loss will cost the future economy a staggering $28 trillion in lower productivity. The long-term implications of failing to address the underlying issues within the education system are substantial and cannot be ignored.

The Need for Policy Changes

Education Secretary Cardona acknowledged that the status quo in education cannot be maintained. However, necessary policy changes are often hindered by political allies who resist reform. Teacher union leaders, such as Randi Weingarten, have been inconsistent in their stance on reopening schools. The National Education Association suggests that more funding is the solution, despite the fact that the U.S. already spends more per student than most other countries. These responses highlight the need to address policy, teacher union influence, bureaucracy, and academic standards as part of a comprehensive reform effort.


The latest PISA results serve as a wake-up call for the American education system. The decline in math scores, despite significant financial investments, illustrates that money alone cannot fix a broken system. It is crucial to address the underlying policy, union, bureaucratic, and academic standards issues to ensure that students receive a quality education. The future of America’s students and its position in the global economy depend on transformative changes in how education is approached and delivered.

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