There is a disturbing gap between the math and science performance of students in the U.S. as compared with our key trade partners and competitors. The figure below depicts the scores of American students against those in a number of industrialized and developing economies that participate in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This system of international tests is designed to measure the proficiency of 15-year-olds in such areas as reading and literacy, math, and science.

The data in the figure are scaled to an OECD average. As shown, the U.S. is below the OECD average in math literacy and just slightly above in science literacy. In these two areas—which are crucial for manufacturing—our students significantly lag behind their counterparts in Canada, Japan, Germany, and the UK.

The relatively weak math and science aptitude in the U.S. certainly contributes to the dearth of engineering graduates and partially frames the broader challenges for the manufacturing workforce. This problem casts a cloud on the outlook for future U.S. innovation strength. We clearly need to consider making changes in math and science education, from credentialing to teaching methods. There is no intrinsic reason that our students could not perform more competitively in these critical areas if appropriate reforms are put into place.

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