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Infographic Of The Day: How Our Students Stack Up Against The World

If you only judged by the alarmist newspaper headlines, you’d think American education was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. But this infographic by Column Five Media offers a more nuanced (if still incomplete) picture.

The Pulse of Education Around The World, for the education materials company Course Hero, shows global educational trends, including how the United States measures up against similar countries. The big takeaway: Americans are, well, average. Compared with 15-year-olds in 33 other nations, students in the states rank 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math, according to 2010 data for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide scholastic aptitude exam. Not great, but also not a nuclear holocaust.

Clouds seem to gather over the U.S., though, when you look at how education has developed around the world over time. Global access to schooling has doubled since 1970. Literacy rates are rising. Post-secondary school enrollment is on the upswing everywhere. Some of the biggest strides are being made in Asia and Latin America. For instance: Between 1999 and 2008, East Asia and the Pacific saw an outsize 140% spike in the number of women and an 87% increase in the number of men enrolled in college. The United States and Western Europe, on the other hand, saw bumps of just 27% (for women) and 19% (for men)—the smallest gain of any geographic region. One way to look at it: The world is getting smarter (or, at minimum, more educated) while America and Europe stay about the same.

The problem with that interpretation, though, is that these figures don’t tell us anything about the quality of the education. The coursework at one university might qualify as high school stuff somewhere else. And where great schools are concerned the United States still ranks above the rest, at least at the college level: It’s got the largest concentration (22%) of the top 400 universities in the world.