As of December 2010, a comparison of standardized testing scores indicated United States high school students perform at an average level compared to their international counterparts. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development states on a scale of 1,000, U.S. students received scores of 487 in math, 500 in reading and 502 in science. As of 2011, the following five member countries have top ranked elementary and secondary educational systems, based on OECD results.

South Korea

Korean public school students attend six years of primary school, three years of middle school and three years of high school. In 1996 only five percent of Korean schools were coeducational. Elementary instruction includes: moral education, Korean language, social studies, mathematics, science, physical education, music, fine arts and practical arts. English instruction begins in third grade. Upon entering high school in tenth grade, students are placed in academic or vocational programs. The school year in South Korea consists of two semesters, the first running from March until July and the second from September to February. It is not uncommon for school activity to start at 8 a.m. and end around 10 p.m. or later.


In the 1960s, the Finnish educational system received a major overhaul. The area evolved from farming to an industrial state. Finnish education standards require children to receive only nine years of schooling. Even though secondary education is compulsory, over 90 percent of Finnish children choose to further their education. Free meals are supplied to encourage school attendance and support learning. Basic instruction includes: mother language and literature, second national language (Swedish/Finnish), foreign language, mathematics, environmental and nature studies, biology and geography, physics and chemistry, health education, religion or ethics, history, social studies, music, visual arts, crafts, physical education, home economics, and educational and vocational guidance.


Local governments regulate Canadian elementary and secondary schools. A typical school year runs from September until June. Formats vary depending on the territory. Some Canadian children enter kindergarten between the ages of five or six, while some territories do not incorporate kindergarten classes into their educational system. High school students in some provinces attend school until eleventh grade, then attend two or three years of general vocational college before attending a post-secondary institution. Estimates state one in ten Canadian citizens does not have a high school diploma, but one in seven does posses a college degree.

New Zealand

New Zealand students have compulsory education between the ages of six and sixteen years of age. Depending on the location, some schools house grades one through six, while others include grades seven and eight. In secondary school many students stay until they turn 18. New Zealand schools allow students to attend until they turn 19. An average New Zealand school day begins at 9 a.m. and ends between 3 and 3:30 p.m. The school year runs from February to December and consists of four terms, each lasting for ten weeks.


Compulsory education for Japanese students includes elementary and junior high school. Over 90 percent of students graduate from high school and 40 percent graduate from college or university. The Japanese school year consists of three terms, starting in April. High schools, a few elementary schools and private institutions in Japan require applicants to pass an entrance exam. Students of varying abilities are commonly placed in one classroom to provide peer-based instruction. This avoids a lecture-type atmosphere and engrosses the student. One student leads the class in a discussion of their results and classmates are encouraged to question and critique the findings.