Your kid’s school vs. the rest of the world

The U.S. may not ace international tests, but what abour your child’s school district? The Bush Institute’s Global Report Card 2.0 lets you rank 14,000 U.S. districts against 25 other developed countries, including high-scoring Singapore and Finland.

“Many of the school districts that we traditionally think of as high performers are found to rank near the middle of the pack when we compare them to international peers,” said Jay Greene, who conducted the study.

Americans are in denial about education problems, Greene tells The Atlantic. ”When you tell people there are problems in education, elites will usually think, ‘Ah, that refers to those poor kids in big cities. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.’”

I checked out Palo Alto Unified, which educated my daughter. Palo Alto students outscore 83 percent of California students in math and 87 percent in reading. On a national level, Palo Alto kids earn a 75 percent in math and 80 percent in reading.  Compared to the rest of the world, scores slip to 67 percent in math, 79 percent in reading.

The comparison is “discouraging,” says The Atlantic.

. . .  if one of the wealthiest and most reputable districts in America, right in the cradle of Silicon Valley, can’t break the 70th percentile in math, what does that say about the rest of the country?

Dropped into Singapore, Palo Alto students would outscore 47 percent in math, 72 percent in reading.

Over the last 50 years, nations’ growth rates have correlated very well with math performance on basic tests, says Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist.

In an article last year ominously titled “Danger: America Is Losing Its Edge in Innovation,”Forbes reported that 70 percent of the engineers who graduate from U.S. universities are now foreign-born. According to a 2007 study at Duke University, more than a quarter of all U.S. tech start-ups between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder.

We like to talk about American innovation, but many of the people doing the innovating here were in fact born elsewhere,” says Hanushek. If America’s high schools could match the math scores of our top competitors, our GDP could increase five- to sevenfold, he estimates.

It’s a big if.

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.