Not Just the Problems of Other People's Children

A great deal of hand-wringing has occurred in recent years concerning the United States’ poor academic performance relative to other nations. The anxiety is no doubt justified, as students from countries like South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong are beating the pants off American pupils on international exams. It’s not just the East Asian countries: even the Swiss, Canucks, and Aussies are cleaning our clocks. But what about Ohio’s students? How does its achievement look in comparison to other industrialized nations? Like most states, not well, according to this new PEPG/Education Next study. To determine how states rank compared to the rest of the world, researchers link 2012 PISA results—international exams administered in thirty-four OECD countries including the U.S.—and state-level NAEP results for eighth graders in 2011. The researchers discovered that Ohio’s students fall well short of the world’s highest performers. When examining math results, Ohio’s proficiency rate (39 percent) falls 15 to 25 percentage points below the highest-achieving nations. (Korea, the worldwide leader in math, was at 65 percent proficiency; Japan was at 59 percent; Massachusetts, the U.S. leader, was at 51 percent). In fact, Ohio’s proficiency rate places us somewhere between Norway’s and Portugal’s achievement rates in this grade and subject. Moreover, Ohio’s weak international performance isn’t just a matter of our students having lower family resources relative to other nations. For example, among students whose parents had a high level of education, Ohio’s math proficiency rate (50 percent) still fell twenty points below the international leaders’ math proficiency rates (Korea, at 73 percent; Poland, at 71 percent). Ohio’s alarmingly mediocre achievement relative to the rest of the world only reinforces our need to raise educational standards so that students—from all family backgrounds—can compete with their international peers.

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).

Aaron Churchill
Aaron Churchill is a Ohio Research Director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute