Study: Few affluent U.S. districts are world class

America’s elite suburban districts rarely provide a world-class education, concludes When the Best is Mediocre, a study by Jay Greene and Josh McGee in Education Next. Their Global Report Card compares math and reading between 2004 and 2007 for most U.S. public school districts with the average in 25 developed countries that are “economic peers and sometime competitors.”
Well-to-do and politically connected families believe they’ve escaped mediocre schools by moving to affluent suburban districts, Greene and McGee write. But their children won’t be competing with inner-city students, when they grow up. In a global economy, they’ll be competing for top jobs with  top students from around the world.

In wealthy, white-and-Asian Beverly Hills, students score in the 76th percentile in math compared to other California students, but only in the 53rd percentile on the Global Report Card.

If Beverly Hills were relocated to Canada, it would be at the 46th percentile in math achievement, a below-average district. If the city were in Singapore, the average student in Beverly Hills would only be at the 34th percentile in math performance.

The top district in the U.S. is Pelham in Massachusetts: The average student scores at the 95th percentile in math compared to the international average. The district includes Amherst College and other elite colleges and universities are nearby.

Palo Alto schools, which educate the children of Stanford professors and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (and my daughter!) hit the 64th percentile in math.

Seven of the top 20 public-school districts in math achievement are charter schools (some states treat charters as their own districts), Greene and McGee write. The list includes Roxbury Prep in Boston and KIPP Infinity in New York City, “no-excuses” schools for low-income black and Hispanic students.

Many of the traditional districts with top scores are rural rather than suburban.

Overall, only 6 percent of U.S. school districts score in the top third on the Global Report Card. Most are small.

Big-city districts do poorly on the report card:  The average Washington, D.C. student is at the 11th percentile in math, the Detroit student at the 12th percentile, Los Angeles at the 20th, New York City at the 32nd and Miami at the 33rd percentile.

About Joanne


  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Small, rural districts are often ethnically and culturally homogenous. Other countries are ethnically and culturally homogenous. Maybe it’s easier to teach a homogenous group?

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’m thrilled to just read the headline, I’ll get to the article when I have more time. I’m so sick of the complete b.s. that Montgomery County, MD “provides a world-class education” to quote my children’s ex principal. The only reason the county can claim such nonsense is because of the number of affluent families in the region that expose their children to language and culture, educational summer camps and math tutors.

  3. But Jay Greene’s and Education Next’s mission in life is to prove that our public schools are failures, our teachers are frauds, our kids are ignorant morons, and we parents are clueless fools for believing that our kids have gotten an education. Shouldn’t that disclaimer be included prominently on this item?

    Personally, I take offense at being given that message. I wish I could be as placid and accepting as Joanne.

    Someday I’d love to know where Jay Greene’s and the Education Next crew’s kids, if any, go/went to school and meet them to see how vastly more brilliant and superbly educated they are than mine.

  4. Did you even look at their methodology before posting their work?

    They rank Spring Lake, NJ #2 in the nation. It is a Pre-K through 8th grade district that serves only 262 kids.

    Do you think it is relevant to compare them to Montgomery County schools?

    Do you think it is appropriate to assign Montgomery County’s performance to Bethesda to prove that wealthy communities do a poor job? Last time I looked, Montgomery County had 30% of kids eligible for free or reduced priced lunches.

    And if you make your list of “wealthy communities” only those with over 50,000 people, I’d venture to guess you have excluded most “wealthy communities”!

    Shoddy work – but obviously done with a particular outcome in mind.