In UNICEF Ranking, U.S. Teens Come in 18th

Published March 1, 2003
The Educational Disadvantage League
Average Rank in Five Measures of Absolute Educational Disadvantage
1.4 Korea
2.2 Japan
4.4 Finland
5.0 Canada
6.2 Australia
8.2 Austria
9.4 UK
10.2 Ireland
10.8 Sweden
12.2 Czech Republic
12.2 New Zealand
12.6 France
13.0 Switzerland
14.0 Belgium
14.0 Iceland
14.2 Hungary
14.2 Norway
16.2 USA
17.0 Germany
17.0 Denmark
18.6 Spain
20.2 Italy
23.2 Greece
23.6 Portugal
Source: Innocenti Report Card Issue No.4, UNICEF, November 2002.

In the first “big picture” comparison of the relative effectiveness of education systems across the developed world, UNICEF reported the United States came in 18th out of 24 nations when the results from five different international educational studies were combined into a composite average ranking. Two Asian nations–South Korea and Japan–took top honors in the international league table, while Greece and Portugal brought up the rear.

The league table developed in the November 2002 report “is based not on the conventional yardstick of how many students reach what level of education, but on testing what pupils actually know and what they are able to do,” said UNICEF.

“Overall, these data show that some countries do a very much better job than others in containing educational disadvantage,” concluded UNICEF. “A child starting school in Canada, Finland, or Korea, for example, has both a higher probability of reaching a given level of educational achievement and a lower probability of falling well below the average than a child starting school in Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, or the United States.”

The measures of student competence used in the UNICEF study are five rankings of the percentage of 14- to 15-year-olds in each nation who fall below international benchmarks of competence in reading, mathematics, and science. These rankings are taken from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS).

For more information …

Innocenti Report Card No. 4, A League Table of Educational Disadvantage in Rich Nations, was produced by UNICEF in November 2002. The 40-page report is available through PolicyBot. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for document #11553.