U.S. has the most high achievers

The U.S. produces many more high-achieving students in reading and math than any developed nation, write Mike Petrilli and Janie Scull in a new Fordham study, American Achievement in International Perspective. What’s our secret? Size. There just aren’t that many Finns.

Because of our size, the U.S. continues to turn out lots of “innovative scientists and entrepreneurs,” the authors conclude.  When China and India start taking the PISA exam, “we might discover that their high-achieving students outnumber ours many times over.”

The U.S. also produces more low achievers than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined, and our domestic achievement gap is huge.

America’s white and Asian students perform among the word’s best; our black and Hispanic students are battling it out with OECD’s worst. Still, this report identifies an interesting wrinkle, and perhaps a ray of hope: In raw numbers, at least, our high-achieving Hispanic and black American students outnumber the high achievers of several other countries.

At the least, this indicates that they will have a seat at the international table—on prestigious college campuses, in the board room, and in the laboratory. It’s a start.

Fun fact: “Proportionally, Asian-American students are the best readers in the world, and white Americans are bested only by Finns and New Zealanders.”

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    One issue here is the effect of having some or many high achievers. It only takes one Salk to develop a polio vaccine. I just hit sixty-six and I recall as a child the polio epidemic in Detroit in the early Fifties. When the vaccine was announced, it was as if it were VJ day all over again, said my parents.
    Two issues: We need all the high achievers we can get. That said, their presence does not affect how we look at the rest of the kids and education.

  2. The educational system should be willing and able to accommodate high achievers so they can achieve their full potential, instead of trapping them into heterogeneous classrooms where they are both unchallenged and bored. Acceleration should be an option, as well as specialized programs of many different types. That being said, kids at all levels should be separated according to academic level/need, so they are neither bored nor overwhelmed. It’s not PC, so it doesn’t happen.

  3. Momof4,

    One size fits all is the brainchild of Bush and company, and the corporations that make a fortune off of developing and printing tests, and selling test prep materials.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    Well, then, where the bleep are all the anti-corporate forces that should be opposing “one size fits all.” My union actually favors it.

  5. Mike… If “One Size Fits All” is a brainchild of Bush and Company, why were grade schools also eliminating things like Reading and Math groups under Clinton?

    I don’t think you can blame the mistreatment of the gifted on politics… rather, it’s the fact that the parents of the kids who AREN’T in the GT classes get mad…

    Maybe we can blame the tort lawyers, though…….

  6. Sean Mays says:

    In ed school around 2004, one size was the mantra and clearly had been for a while. We wouldn’t want to single anybody out for being too far from the center of the bell. The gifted, I was told, “will be just fine without our help.”


    I agree it’s the parents who get up in arms. Our district recently turned down an open enrollment gifted focus charter – the public outcry over using ed dollars for that was amazing! Of course, when a special ed kid gets a 50 or 100k a year private placement, nary a word is said. I’d think Free Appropriate Public Education should cover ALL our students.

    I’m thankful for a great charter where my oldest is happy. I’d worry about having to homeschool her, but it may well come to that.

  7. Tracking has been steadily falling out of favor since the 1960’s. My dad was tracked into honors classes starting in 3rd grade (the late ’50’s). I was tracked into honors classes in English and math in 5th grade and all other subjects in 7th grade (late ’80’s). My youngest brother was tracked into honors classes in English and math in 7th grade and all other subjects in 9th grade (same school system, late ’90’s). The high school for which my kids are zoned does not offer ANY honors classes until 11th grade. All of these are in affluent, predominantly white suburbs so it’s not a diversity issue.

  8. Stacy in NJ says:

    Crimson Mom, My area school begins tracking for math in 3rd grade. Math and reading tracking begins in 5th. By 7th grade everything is tracked. Honors classes are offered beginning in 8th grade. So, your experience isn’t universal. Good quality East coast schools aggressively track.

  9. tim-10-ber says:

    Stacy — I take it these are public schools? Would you please share names of districts? I want to pass this on to my district that started then for some odd reason stopped tracking almost as quickly. UGH!! Thank you —

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    I assume I teach at a “quality east coast” high school. We track but it’s not much of a track. About a third of the school qualifies for Honors. Everyone else except for “life skills” kids is in the College track. Within each class there is a tremendous variance in preparation, ambition, work habits, and smarts.

  11. Stacy in NJ says:

    tim-10-ber, Yes, they’re public schools. Some local districts: Bernards Township, Somerset Hills, Harding Township, Millburn Township, Mendham. I’m most familar with Bernards Township and Somerset Hills.

  12. The ‘fun fact’ presumes there’s some theory-neutral way of evaluating participants for their ‘whiteness’. Given that there is no genetic correlate to skin colour, it is likely that the same social conditions that would lead one otherwise identical person to self-identify as ‘non-white’ and the other as ‘white’ would also lead to the differing educational outcomes obtained. Race is not a predictor of anything other than the prejudices that lie behind selection and identification by race.

  13. Roger Sweeny says:


    Glad to know you oppose affirmative action and indeed all record-keeping which identifies people by race. I feel the same way but most people seem to that that’s radical.