Inequality in American schools: students in certain states compare well with international leaders, those in other states do not

Where American students go to school matters as those in certain states score comparably to international leaders while students living in other states don’t do as well:

The average TIMSS score is a 500, and the test uses four benchmarks—low, intermediate, high, and advanced—to describe student scores. In math, two-thirds of U.S. states scored above the TIMSS average…

Massachusetts was the highest-scoring state in math, coming in behind four educational systems—Republic of Korea, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, and Hong Kong—and outranking 42 education systems. The lowest-ranking state, Alabama, outperformed only 19 educational systems…

In science, 47 states scored above the TIMMS average…

Massachusetts and Vermont outperformed 43 educational systems, while the District of Columbia ranked above only 14 educational systems. Singapore was the only education system to outrank all U.S. states.

This isn’t a new argument. The documentary Waiting for Superman raises a similar question: do we want children’s education to rest primarily on where they live, a factor over which they have little control? A Time story on education in Finland a few years ago suggested they had a different approach: raise rest scores and education overall by helping the students at the bottom. The United States and some other countries use the opposite approach where they provide resources to the best students to help them achieve even more. Both approaches can lead to higher average test scores but they would lead to different levels of variation in scores. In other words, how much of a gap between the higher and lower scorers is desirable for a society? Of course, this could go far more local than the state level. For example, some public schools in Chicago are among the best in the states while others in the city are among those that struggle the most.

This does reinforce an idea from urban sociology: where people do and can live makes a big difference in their life outcomes. Live in an area with generally more wealthy people and the outcomes are likely to be better.

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