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.