U.S. Math Education Still in the Doldrums

Every three years, the OECD, in the PISA assessment, studies 15-year-olds around the world to measure performance in reading, mathematics, and science. The results of the 2012 PISA assessment, which had a particular focus on mathematics, just came out and the United States does not fare well: "Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 26th." I worry not so much about the rank, but about the low absolute level of proficiency to get this rank.

The U.S. students' particular strengths and weaknesses are even more distressing:

Students in the United States have particular strengths in cognitively less-demanding mathematical skills and abilities, such as extracting single values from diagrams or handling well-structured formulae. They have particular weaknesses in items with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems.

No Worries, Mate: Australia Is Happiest Industrialized Nation

Growing up in Australia, I always knew it was true. And now The Wall Street Journal confirms it:

No worries, mate: Australia may be the world's happiest industrialized nation by one reckoning, even as it grapples with rising inflation, pricey housing and worries that it is developing a two-track economy.

The resource-rich nation ranked highly in areas such as overall satisfaction, health, leisure time and community networks, according to a new survey released Wednesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of the 34 nations that make up its membership. The index found that 75% of Australians were satisfied with their lives, above the U.S. average of 70% and well above the OECD's average of 59%, while 83% expect things to be even better in five years from now.

Strangely enough, a few years back Danny Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald—perhaps unsurprisingly, a pair of Brits—wrote a paper, “Happiness and the Human Development Index: The Paradox of Australia,” arguing that Australia was surprisingly unhappy. But there really never was a paradox. Instead, the authors were simply over-interpreting two datapoints.

The Value of Unpaid Work: Which Countries Do the Most and Why

A new report from the OECD paints a fascinating picture of how citizens from different countries stack up on an assortment of metrics: from who works the longest hours, who shops the most, to who is most trusting of others. The annual report, titled "Society at a Glance 2011 - OECD Social Indicators," is chock-full with interesting data on all kinds of social behaviors.