Stratification of Education: Why the U.S. Sucks In International Rankings

We consistently hear stories about how the U.S. educational system lags dangerously behind the world. At every State of the Union, any president will get an applause line if he talks about the need to improve our education system. The kids in ________ are overtaking us, outworking us.

This actually isn't quite right. The real issue is that states' educations systems are stratified -- Massachusetts is a leader, Alabama lags at the bottom. This is the case according to a new report by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The report was actually set up to discern how the U.S. performs as a country vis-a-vis other countries, but it also broke down states' math and science scores individually. Here's what the report found:

In both math and science, Massachusetts and Vermont scored at the very top and Alabama, Mississippi and the District of Columbia scored at the bottom. Texas was firmly in the middle on math, but in the bottom third on science scores. More broadly, states from New England and the Upper Midwest (e.g., Minnesota and Wisconsin) were the high performers and states from the Deep South, Appalachia, along with California, Arizona and New Mexico were the bottom feeders.

The top performers internationally, by the way, were Hong Kong, Japan, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Chinese Taipei-CHN and Singapore. The United States as a whole, versus international competition, ranked 11th internationally in math and science.

The upshot of all this is not hard to grasp. The United States' education problem is the stratification of education results within the United States.

Now, education is an exceedingly complex policy area, and we certainly aren't going to solve the problem in this post, but it is telling -- and also plays to our stereotypes -- that the states where the students are succeeding (Massachusetts et al.) and the low performers (Alabama and Mississippi) aren't particularly surprising. Federalism -- you live with the good and the bad.

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