Donald Trump’s seemingly crazy claim about America’s schools in his presidential announcement is mostly true
Reported by Abby Jackson, Jun. 16, 2015
Donald Trump officially threw his hat into the 2016 presidential race on Tuesday, and during his speech he took a swing at what he believes is America’s failing school system. “Twenty-five countries are better than us at education,” he said. “And some of them are like third-world countries.” But is that an accurate statement, or simply hyperbole?
To fact-check that claim we took a look at the international test most widely used as a tool for measuring education systems worldwide, the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The PISA exam is a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and it measures 15-year-olds in 65 countries in math, science, and reading.
The US scores notoriously low on the PISA. In 2012, the most recent time the PISA was conducted, the US ranked 35th in math, 27th in science, and 24th in reading. It ranked below the OECD average in every category.
So, Trump’s claim that 25 countries are better at education than the US seems to be a fairly accurate point to make.
The second part of Trump’s statement, that some third-world countries beat the US, is a bit more nuanced to unpack. For starters, the term “third world” is a vague descriptor that means different things to different people. The term was birthed during the Cold War to refer to countries that were aligned with neither NATO nor the Communist Bloc.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the term has morphed to be more of a catchall term for developing or poor countries. As such, there is no authoritative list of third-world countries.
Still, we took a look at the countries with the lowest gross national income (GNI) based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) per capita in international dollars, as a proxy for a list of “third-world countries.” For the most part, the countries that beat the US are also economically strong. Those countries include China, Singapore, and Germany.
But one country that beat the US is significantly poorer than those countries: Vietnam. The comparable average income of a citizen of Vietnam is $5,070 yearly, compared with $53,470 for the US. Vietnam beat the US in both math and science.
So even though it sounds outlandish to make that claim, “The Donald” makes a fair point about the US’ educational system.
His announcement marks the first time he will actively seek the Republican nomination, though he has toyed with the idea in the past. The real-estate mogul gave a characteristically boisterous performance. He spoke in an off-the-cuff manner and made some pretty big claims, such as, “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”