We’ve noticed that in talking about education, politicians like to use statistics that show the U.S. is way behind other countries. That certainly makes it easier to tout whatever education policies the pols are pushing. But sometimes kids in the U.S. perform better than politicians make it sound.
Our colleagues at PolitiFact.com caught President Obama misleadingly claiming last week that "In eighth grade math, we’ve fallen to ninth place." U.S. eighth graders are in ninth place, behind several Asian countries, plus Hungary, England and the Russian federation. That’s according to the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) from the U.S. Department of Education. But eighth graders have actually performed better in math over the years — they haven’t "fallen," as Obama said. PolitiFact points out that in 1995, the U.S. middle-schoolers came in 28th and by 2003, they had moved up to a 15th place finish.
This reminds us of claims we debunked back during the presidential campaign from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who repeatedly claimed that U.S. students in grades K-12 used to be No. 1 in the world in math and science but now ranked 29th. Neither claim was true.
Update, March 19: For more on a few misleading claims in Obama’s speech, see our "Education Spin" article on the main site.