Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Sky is Not Falling After All: US Schools Rank High Internationally

It is commonly believed that public education in the U.S. is in miserable shape, with terrible teachers causing high dropout rates and worse educational outcomes than our trading partners. There are test scores (PISA) that confirm this, with the U.S. ranking lower than countries like South Korea, Finland, Japan and Hong Kong. And Ed Deformers have glommed onto such data as proof that the system needs a dramatic makeover and use the data to justify everything from privatization schemes to the dismantling of teachers’ unions.

A new analysis of international data by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution suggests that the U.S. may not be as far behind their counterparts as previously thought, according to U.S.A. Today.

The rankings tend to be given in raw numbers such that countries with statistically indistinguishable scores appear to have different rankings. Thus Hong Kong (607) and Singapore (599) were listed has 1st and 2nd place for fourth-grade math scores in 2007. This is misleading, as their scores were virtually indistinguishable statistically. By grouping together in first place, all the other nations would move up in rank.

Loveless examined the scores and rankings more closely and grouped nations together that had statistically indistinguishable scores. By doing so, Hong Kong and Singapore were grouped together as tied for 1st, while Netherlands (535), Lithuania (530), U.S. (529), Germany (525) and Denmark (523) were grouped together in fifth place.

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