Reviewers of the data noted that “New Zealand’s education system has won major praise with it nearing the top in literacy, mathematics and science according to a highly recognised international assessment system. But the data points to some alarming gaps in New Zealand – especially socio-economic.”  So we are doing well despite the shocking gaps between those with much and those with little. Go figure.
So just how well did we do?
Overall, in 2009 New Zealand was ranked 5th out of 34 OECD countries for mean PISA scores across reading, mathematics and science.
Fifth. Fifth out of thirty four. FIFTH!
Where was the USA? The UK? Aus? Below NZ, not above. So next time a politician stands up and talks about education here in the God Zone, just remember – 5th in the world.
Are the 2012 statistics a fluke?
No, they’re not. NZ consistently performs well, as shown in the 2000, 2002 and 2003 information below: 
Over three-quarters (76 percent) of New Zealanders aged 25–64 years have achieved secondary or tertiary educational qualifications.
This is at the upper end of the OECD scale, placing New Zealand twelfth among 30 nations, slightly behind Austria and ahead of Finland, and well above the OECD average of 65 percent.
There is considerable variation in the proportion of people holding qualifications, from 13 percent in Mexico to 88 percent in the Czech Republic.
|Educational Attainment(percentage of 25–64 year olds attaining at least upper secondary education), 2002
High rates of early childhood education
New Zealand also has higher rates of participation in early childhood education than most other OECD countries.
Ninety-three percent of New Zealand four year olds were involved in early childhood education in 2000, compared with an OECD average of just 73 percent. New Zealand ranked ninth in the proportion of four year olds in education.
|Education(proportion of 4 year olds in primary or pre-primary education), 2000
New Zealand children rank relatively highly on international literacy scales.
The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment measures performance levels of students near the end of compulsory education in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy.
The data shows that New Zealand children rank seventh among OECD countries, with comparable data in terms of the average score across the three scales, behind Finland, Korea, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. New Zealand rates above the OECD average on each of the scales – fifth in reading, ninth in mathematics and seventh in science.
| Student Literacy(student performance on the combined reading, scientific and mathematical literacy scales), 2003
So just how well did we do in the latest statistics?
The science results for 15 year olds were topped by Shanghai (575), Finland (554), Singapore (542) and New Zealand (532). That means we are the 4th best in science out of 65 countries. The OECD average was 501.
The top reading literacy scores for 15-year-olds showed Korea (with a score of 539), Finland (536), Hong Kong-China (533), Singapore (526), Canada (524) and then New Zealand (521). New Zealand was well above the OECD average of 493. It’s worth noting that all but one of the countries out-performing NZ there have education systems based on equitable education for all, rather than competition. Singapore is the only exception to that. None have charter schools.
We did very well in maths, too.
It’s worth remembering all of this and celebrating how well we do as a country.
That’s not to say we don’t have areas in need of careful focus and improvement – of course we do. All teachers know that – we all want that. We want to be able to easily get access to professional development so we can enhance the skills we have. We want to lift achievement in immigrants, Pacific Islanders and Maori students so that they stand a better chance of achieving the same as other groups. We want to address the huge and worrying disparity in achievement between the haves and the have-nots.
It’s a great system we have, and a wonderful one to build on and improve further – it isn’t in need of a complete overhaul, just the trust and respect of those in charge, and a willingness to listen to our advice, suggestions and ideas.
Then we can all get on with more of what we do well – teaching.