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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #132, April 2011. Copyright 2011, Left Business Observer. It’s the latest in our education series; earlier articles are on charter schools and how poverty explains test scores.

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In and out of school

It’s remarkable how similar the U.S. educational system is to our health care system: by world standards, we spend gobs of money on both, and both yield underwhelming outcomes. With health, we’re in a class by ourselves, spending a two-thirds higher share of GDP than the OECD average (a share bigger than any country in the world, by a long shot) to produce some of the worst health indicators in the First World. We’re not so egregious on education. We spend just a third more than the OECD average, the second-highest of any country, to produce merely mediocre scores on internationally comparable tests. But there’s a pattern there, don’t you think?

We’ll take a close look at educational outcomes in the next issue of LBO. For this first pass, let’s examine the dimensions of spending, and the enrollment and attainment numbers.

Money and matriculation

In 2007, the U.S. spent 7.6% of GDP on education, 1.9 points above the OECD average, and exceeded only by Iceland. (See the box at the end of this article for data details.) But before this is turned into a right-wing, “See, you just can’t throw money at this problem,” homily, several factors lurking below this fat headline number must be discussed.