The US Education Litany

The TIMSS (Third International Math and Science Study) reports and scores and the IAEP (International Assessment of Education Progress) scores from the US Department of Education contain most of the following data about US teaching policies and skills and provide an important opportunity to make a comparison between the US education system and those of Germany, Japan, and Korea.  Because their 12th graders scored 59-206 TIMSS points higher than ours, it also provides an opportunity to refute the education litany which is repeated by American educators across the country, to the great detriment of American students


I) "Smaller class size improves education".

There is no data to support this assertion, and in fact the available data shows just the opposite.  Table 16a (Class Size), Table 9a (IAEP Scores) and the TIMSS scores show that education quality increases by roughly 4 TIMSS points and 1.3 IAEP points for each 1 student increase in the number of students per classroom, with few exceptions. For example, Japan has an average of 20 more students in their classrooms than we do and scores 105 points higher on TIMSS. Korea has 26 more students in their classrooms and scores 107 points higher on TIMSS and 23 points higher on IAEP. Hungary has 3 more students per classroom and scores 37 TIMSS points and 14 IAEP points higher.

II) "We need more money to improve education".

There is no data to support this assertion, and in fact the available data shows just the opposite. Figure 28 (Education Expenditures), Table 9a (IAEP Scores) and the TIMSS scores show that education quality increases roughly by 5 TIMSS points and 1.6 IAEP points for each 0.1% decrease in spending as a percent of GDP, with few exceptions. For example, Japan spends only 4.9% of its GDP for education, 2% less than the US, and scores 105 TIMSS points higher. Korea spends 4.6% less of its GDP on education and scores 107 TIMSS points and 23 IAEP points higher, Hungary spends 0.2% less and scores 37 TIMSS points and 14 IAEP points higher, Belgium spends 1.5% less and scores 65 TIMSS points higher, Austria spends 1.5% less and scores 39 TIMSS points higher, France spends 0.9% less and scores 38 TIMSS points and 7 IAEP points higher, Australia spends 1.4% less and scores 30 TIMSS points higher, Ireland spends 1% less and scores 27 TIMSS and 4 IAEP points higher, Sweden spends 0.8% less and scores 19 TIMSS points higher, Germany spends 0.9% less and scores 9 TIMSS points higher, England spends 1.6% less and scores 6 TIMSS points higher, and Norway spends 0.8% less and scores 3 TIMSS points higher.

The data suggests that, all else being equal, US education quality could be significantly increased at the same time the cost of education in the US is reduced by $378 Billion per year.

III) "The US education system has a unique problem with student diversity."

According to Chapter 4, Germany and the U.S. have similar experiences with the diversity of their students. It should be noted that diversity is no more of a problem today than it was 40 years ago, when SAT scores were 98 points higher.

IV)  "American students watch too much TV which interferes with their education."

The Department of Education reports that TV viewing in Japan and Germany is similar to that of US students.

V)  "American teachers don't have as much of an opportunity to have discussions with their colleagues."

The reports show that German and US teachers do not discuss education amoungst themselves as often as the Japanese teachers do, which may be a factor in our 105 TIMSS point lower score than Japan. But improving the qualifications of the teachers who discuss things with their colleagues has to happen before such discussions will have much of an impact on education quality.

VI) "American teachers don't spend as much time in school as foreign teachers."

The report shows that German teachers, whose students score 9 TIMSS points higher than US students, "spent the shortest amount of time at school", suggesting that this is a minor factor if it is a factor at all.

VII)  "We must be doing something right, because look at how many foreigners come to the US to go to our schools".

Considering that most citizens of the world are more familiar with our low TIMSS scores than we are, this is an arrogant statement, but almost every American teacher or principle seems to use it.  There is no data to support this assertion, and in fact the US has one of the lowest immigration rates, at 2.7 per 1,000 population. The rates in countries like Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden are twice as high, and the rates in Germany and Switzerland are four times as high, so if the  education system is what attracts immigrants, then our poor education system must be the reason our immigration rate is so low.

VIII) "Raising self esteem improves math education."

No data supports this assertion and most data demonstrates that math skills decrease 2 TIMSS Math points for each 1% increase in the percent of students who feel "I am good at math" iamgood.htm

In other words, improving self esteem lowers academic skills.

IX) "How can teachers teach children whose parents just don't care about education?"

There is no doubt that the breakdown of the American family and the rise of the two-parent worker family have reduced the time available to and ability of parents to be more involved in their children's educations. More than ever before, the qualifications of teachers must be increased sufficiently to compensate for this, AND it is more important than ever before that *educators* cease being a party to this breakdown of the American family.


X) "Huh?  Religion & Ethics?  What do you mean?"

American teachers don't even know what "religion" and "ethics" are, and they certainly are unaware that the US was established as a Christian nation, and that the public education system was originally set up for the express purpose of teaching Christianity.  In keeping with such ignorance, this report did not discuss either of these factors at all, which is a major shortcoming of US education. Banning prayer in school in the US in 1963 was followed by a chronic 98 point drop in SAT scores which never recovered, even with recent "recentering" and other modifications of standardized tests. As a result, both Japanese and Korean schools which still have prayer in school have considerably lower rates of school violence, crime, and disrespect for both teachers and fellow students, in addition to producing students with excellent academic skills.


XI) "We have some of the most qualified teachers in the world".

The measurable academic skills of American teachers are conservatively 160 to 309 TIMSS Math points lower than those of Germany, Japan, and Korea.  Chapter 4 reports they were "unable to collect information on this topic due to the great variety of ways in which university training in mathematics and science is organized". The report notes that apprenticeship in Germany and extensive in-classroom training in Japan are superior to the 12 weeks or less that US teachers experience.

Fortunately, it is precisely these TIMSS scores coupled with SAT and GRE scores which enable a comparison of US teachers' academic skills to be made with German, Korean, and Japanese teachers.  Cross-linking studies show that 1 TIMSS math point is roughly equivalent to 1.5 SAT math points.

bulletGap in Education Major Scores--Table 130 shows that the average SAT score of education majors in the US is lower than average--409 for SAT Verbal (91 points below average) and 446 for SAT Math (54 SAT points or 36 TIMSS points below average). Teachers in Korea, Japan, and Germany have average math skills roughly 36 TIMSS points higher than their average. 
bulletGap in Scores by Sex--40 years of historical data from SAT and ACT show that boys score higher than girls by 50 SAT Math points (about 18%, equivalent to 33 TIMSS points), 2.3 ACT Math points (about 14.3%), 2.8 ACT Natural Science points (about 13.9%), and by 1.7 ACT Social Studies points (about 10.2%). The report notes that "The typical teacher of U.S. eighth-grade math and science students was a woman in her forties, with about 15 years of prior teaching experience. Forties was the norm for most of the other TIMSS countries. The typical teacher of German students was a man nearly fifty, who had been teaching for about 19 years; and the typical teacher of Japanese students was a man in his late thirties, who had been teaching for 14 years."
bulletGerman 8th graders scored 9 TIMSS math points higher, Japanese 8th graders scored 105 points higher, and Korean 8th graders scored 107 points higher, than our 8th graders.
bulletKorean and Japanese 12th graders did not participate in TIMSS, but US 12th grade boys scored 63 points lower in geometry than our 8th grade boys did in TIMSS math, a feat accomplished by few other countries.  Compared to their 8th grade boys, 12th grade boys in: Luthuania scored 62 points higher, Cyprus scored 48 points higher, Russia scored 35 points higher, France scored 23 points higher, Switzerland scored 21 points higher, Denmark scored 20 points higher, and Greece scored 15 points higher.   A conservative estimate is that Japanese and Korean 12th grade boys would have scored 30 points higher than their 8th grade boys had they participated in the 12th grade study.
bulletInternationally, 12th grade girls scored an average of 35 points lower in geometry than their 8th grade girls scored in TIMSS Math, but US 12th grade girls scored 89 points lower in geometry than US 8th grade girls scored in TIMSS math.  It is conservatively estimated that Japanese and Korean 12th grade girls would have followed the international rather than the US pattern.


TIMSS Scores8th Grade Total8th Grade Boys8th Grade Girls12th Grade Boys12th Grade GirlsTeachers
US vs Korea-107-113-101-206-155-309
US vs Japan-105-107-103-200-157-303
US vs Germany-9-10-12-59-72-162


Increasing education spending, reducing class size, eliminating TV viewing, sending existing teachers to math or teachers colleges, increasing the time existing teachers spend in school or apprenticeships, changing diversity, increasing communications amoungst teachers, eliminating multicultural education, decreasing school violence, stopping family breakdown, eliminating two-parent worker families, or increasing the percent of California students who graduate above two thirds, combined, would not increase the average TIMSS score of existing math teachers by even 1 point. It is an imperative and a prerequisite that the math skills of math teachers be increased to at least the level of Japanese or Korean teachers if we really want US students to be interested in and learn math, and thus compete in the global economy. It is impossible that math teachers, whose demonstrated math skills are amoungst the lowest in the nation as well as the entire rest of the world, can even understand what math is all about, much less instill this information in our youth, get them excited about a math education, raise their math skills, or encourage them to even appreciate the power of good math skills.

Table 130 "Scholastic Aptitude Test score averages, by intended area of study" shows that there is an existing pool of educated Americans who already meet the requirements necessary to improve US math teachers' skills by 185 SAT Math points instantly. The average SAT Math score of math majors is 607, 22 points higher than the SAT Math scores of math majors in 1978. If they were encouraged to become our nation's math educators as soon as possible, an impediment to "excellence in education" in the US would be eliminated to allow the nation to get to work on the rest of the problems in education.


Comparison of ClassroomsU.S.GermanyJapanKorea
Cost of Education as % of GDP6.9%5.4%4.9%2.9%
Classes Taught per Week by Teachers26241620
Math Class Size24253740
Saturday Classes001/2 Day1/2 Day
% Teachers Reporting 1 Formal Meeting/Month60%44%76%?
Ethics/Religious Instruction/Week0133
Students Can Wear Make-upYesNoNoNo
Percent of Teachers Who Are Men24.5%67%72%55%
Percent of Math Teachers Who Are Men24.5%100%100%100%
% Teachers Reporting Student Discipline a Problem24%35%0%0%
% Students Reporting Threats25%25%0%0%
% Students Reporting Thefts58%32%0%0%
Student Respect for TeachersLowHighHighHigh
Student Respect for Upper ClassmenLowHighHighHigh
Students Change Classrooms Between ClassesYesNoNoNo
Corporal PunishmentNoYesYesYes
% Students Who Feel "I am good at math"68%40%24%23%
Prison Incarceration Rate/100,000 Population642714440
% Math Teachers Who Majored/Minored in Math48%100%100%100%
TIMSS Math Score of 8th Graders500509605607
TIMSS Math Score of 12th Grade Boys439498639645
Likely TIMSS Score of Teachers372534675681




  1. To support the 97% of Americans who want their teachers to be tested, that TIMSS be used as the template to complete this test asap.
  2. To guarantee American students the best possible math education, that no American teacher who scores lower than 639 in TIMSS Math (the median score for Japanese 12th grade boys) be permitted to teach math, science, physics, or chemistry to our children.
  3. To attract qualified mathematicians to become teachers, that math teachers' salaries be established at 10% higher than the industry average.
  4. To achieve the optimum price/performance ratio in education, that all math, science, physics, and chemistry classrooms contain at least 46 students.
  5. To cut the cost of US education by $270 billion per year, that a cap of 4% of GDP be established for total public education expenditures.