When the Best is Mediocre
Unfailingly, Americans express distain with America’s underperforming public education system, while simultaneously raving about the education their own children receive from it. This new analysis by Jay Greene and Josh McGee takes a hatchet to that comforting illusion—showing that even wealthy suburban schools aren’t up to snuff in world terms. Working with the George W. Bush Institute, the two compared math and reading performance of nearly every U.S. school district to its respective state, the nation, and then also to other developed countries. The upshot: Complacent suburban parents should start getting a little angry at the state of our education system. None of America’s affluent, overwhelmingly white districts perform at a level that would place them in the top third of developed nations. And many do considerably worse: In math, ritzy Beverly Hills scores at the 53rd percentile relative to other developed nations, despite the fact that the scores from those countries include non-affluent schools. And posh Evanston, IL finds itself in the 48th percentile. (If you’re interested in seeing how your own district matches up, check out the report’s accompanying “Global Report Card,” an interactive online database of all the report’s findings.) To be sure, the analytic methods used here, while inventive, are shaky, as Greene and McGree acknowledge. They had to compare scores on different tests taken by students of different ages—and couldn’t mute all the statistical “noise” generated by these discrepancies. The question is: Do suburban parents want to wait for more rigorous data to become available before acknowledging that they, too, have a school problem?
|Click to listen to commentary on Jay's and Josh's report from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
Jay P. Greene and Josh B. McGee, “When the Best is Mediocre,” Education Next, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Winter 2012).
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