When you look at the average performance of American students on international test scores, our kids come off as a pretty middling bunch. If you rank countries based on their very fine differences, we come in 14th in reading, 23rd in science, and 25th in math. Those finishes led Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to flatly declare that "we're being out-educated."
And on average, maybe we are. But averages also sometimes obscure more than they reveal. My colleague Derek Thompson has written before about how, once you compare students from similar income and class backgrounds, our relative performance improves dramatically, suggesting that our educational problems may be as much about our sheer number of poor families as our supposedly poor schools. This week, I stumbled on another data point that belies the stereotype of dimwitted American teens.
When it comes to raw numbers, it turns out, we generally have far more top performers than any other developed nation.
That's according to the graph below from the Economic Policy Institute's recent report on America's supply of science and tech talent. Among OECD nations in 2006, the United States claimed a third of high-performing students in both reading and science, far more than our next closest competitor, Japan. On math, we have a bit less to be proud of -- we claimed just 14 percent of the high-performers, compared to 15.2 percent for Japan and 16.2 percent of South Korea.