The Economics Behind International Education Rankings
By Cynthia McCabe
This week's release of international education rankings placing U.S. students in the middle of the pack for reading and science and below average in math contained few surprises. But what might have been overlooked in the horse race coverage of how the students stacked up is an economic link that further supports the argument that their poverty levels are potentially the most significant factors in their success.
The head of the National Association of Secondary School Principals took a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores compared with the rest of the world's, overlaying it with the statistics on how many of the tested students are in the government's free and reduced lunched program for students below the poverty line. Here's what he found:
* In schools where less than 10 percent of students get free or reduced lunch, the reading score is 551. That would place those U.S. students at No. 2 on the international ranking for reading, just behind Shanghai, China which topped the ranking with a score of 556.
* In schools where 75 percent or more of the students get free or reduced lunch, the reading score was 446. That's off the bottom of the charts, below last-place Greece's 483.
Money matters and countless studies have demonstrated a link between parents' income and students' test scores.
"These data remind us that U.S. schools do rather well by students who come to school ready to learn, but it's impossible to ignore the persistent correlation between poverty and performance," said Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the association. "Once again, we're reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome."