Donald Trump's seemingly crazy claim about America's schools in his presidential announcement is mostly true


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 our failing school system.


"Twenty-five countries are better than us at education. And some of them are like third-world countries," he said.

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 for short. The PISA exam is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and 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 like 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 neither aligned to NATO or 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 to $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 United States' failing 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 proclaiming, "I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created."


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