Blog: Education by the Numbers

Do U.S. students lag behind the rest of the world?

In a May 3, 2013 HuffPo story, ‘We’re Number Umpteenth!’: Debunking the Persistent Myth of Lagging…, Alfie Kohn takes issue with the conventional wisdom that American students are slipping behind their peers abroad. Kohn is partly right. The international ranking tables are largely a reflection of how much poverty you have in your nation. Countries with the lowest poverty levels rise to the top. Countries with the highest poverty levels sink to the bottom.And that’s a big reason the U.S., with something like a 25 percent poverty rate in our schools, has slid.

But it’s not true that our top students are doing just fine. After digging through international testing data, Martin Conroy of Stanford University and Richard Rothstein of EPI, in a January 2013 paper, What do international tests really show about U.S. student performa…, find that the biggest, most alarming gaps are between America’s top students and the top students of other countries. Our best students are the problem.


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