Not just the problem of other people’s children: U.S. student performance in global perspective

America’s educational shortcomings are not limited to disadvantaged kids. Far from it, as Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann explain in this recently released Education Next/PEPG study. Looking at the NAEP scores in every U.S. state and the PISA results of all thirty-four OECD countries, Hanushek et al. compared the math proficiency rates of students by parental education level: low (neither parent has a high school diploma), moderate (at least one parent has a high school diploma, but neither has a college degree), and high (at least one parent has a college degree). The results, from an American perspective, were pretty grim at every level. Overall, 35 percent of U.S. students are proficient in math, placing us twenty-seventh. For the most disadvantaged students, things are actually a bit rosier: we rank twentieth. The whopper, however, is the comparative proficiency of our most advantaged students: they fall in at a dismal twenty-eighth place—worse than the country’s overall rank. In other words, advantaged U.S. students appear to be doing comparatively worse internationally than students with less-educated parents. This is the opposite of what many low-score apologists—and suburban parents—would like you to believe. (Try explaining that with poverty.) Fortunately, there’s a little bit of state-level good news. Advantaged students from Massachusetts, for example, rank just outside the top five internationally, with a 62 percent proficiency rate. And disadvantaged students in Texas have a 28 percent proficiency rate, placing them seventh internationally. For the country, however, the picture is decidedly distressing. The persistence of our country’s economic prominence depends on American students receiving world-class educations. They aren’t getting that today.

SOURCE: Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann, Not just the problem of other people’s children: U.S. student performance in global perspective (Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next, May 2014).

Brandon Wright
Brandon Wright is a Managing Editor and Policy Associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute