U.S. students advancing in math trails most industrialized nations

Nov 11, 2010 By Paul E. Peterson

According to the first-ever comprehensive study comparing the percentage of U.S. students in the graduating class of 2009 who have advanced skills in math with the percentages of similar high achievers in 56 other countries, only six percent of U. S. students perform at the advanced level in math, as compared to 28 percent of Taiwanese students and more than 20 percent of students in Finland and Korea. Overall, the United States ranks 31st out of 56 countries, falling behind most industrialized nations. The report is available on the web at www.educationnext.org.

The study, sponsored by the journal Education Next and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, was co-authored by Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University, Paul E. Peterson of Harvard University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich. The authors analyzed state-by-state the percentage of students performing at advanced levels. Most states in the U.S. rank closer to developing countries than to developed countries. Thirteen developed countries have more than twice the percentage of advanced students as does the U.S., including Germany, Canada, the Czech Republic, Japan, Finland and Austria.

The lagging U.S. performance is not just explained by its heterogeneous population. The report also compared to other countries U.S. white students and children of parents with college degrees—two groups against which the case of discrimination cannot be made easily. The analysis found that only 8 percent of white students and 10 percent of students from all races with at least one college-educated parent performed at the advanced level. By comparison, 18 countries saw 10 percent of all their students performing at the advanced level. The percentage of high-performing students in each state, as well as the ranking of each state in comparison to other countries, is provided in the accompanying table and figure.

Other findings from the study include:

• Just 4.5 percent of the students in California are performing at the highly accomplished level, a percentage that trails 32 countries and is comparable to the performance of students in Portugal, Italy, Israel, and Turkey.
• The lowest-ranking states—West Virginia, New Mexico and Mississippi—fall behind Serbia and Uruguay.
• The only OECD countries—out of 30—producing a smaller percentage of advanced math students than the U.S. were Spain, Italy, Israel, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Chile and Mexico.

“Public discourse has tended to focus on the need to address low achievement, particularly among disadvantaged students, and bring everyone up to a minimum level of proficiency,” said Peterson. “As great as this need may be, there is no less need to lift more students, no matter their socio-economic background, to high levels of educational accomplishment.”

Some attribute the comparatively small percentages of students performing at the advanced level to the focus of the 2002 law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), on the needs of very low-performing students. However, in mathematics, the percentage performing at an advanced level rose after the passage of the law, although not to internationally competitive levels.

“The incapacity of American schools to bring students up to the highest level of accomplishment in math is much more deep-seated than anything induced by recent federal legislation,” Hanushek pointed out.

The analysis uses the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2005 advanced standard to compare U.S. state performances with performance in other countries. Since U.S. took both the NAEP 2005 and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006, it was possible to find the score on the PISA that is tantamount to scoring at the advanced level on the NAEP. The PISA is an internationally standardized assessment of student performance in , science and reading, established by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“Maintaining national productivity depends importantly on developing a highly qualified cadre of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and other professionals,” Woessmann observed.

Explore further: Local homicide rate increases cause more elementary students to fail school

More information: “U.S. Math Performance in Global Perspective: How well does each state do at producing high-achieving students?” is available at educationnext.org and hks.harvard.edu/pepg/

Provided by Harvard Kennedy School

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User comments : 22

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jmcanoy1860
5 / 5 (1) Nov 11, 2010
And the republicans want to slash spending on education.
marjon
1 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2010
And the republicans want to slash spending on education.

If you do the math, per pupil spending does not correlate with results and liberals have been in charge of education for over 50 years.

"Some calculus-tricks are quite easy. Some are enormously difficult. The fools who write the text-books of advanced mathematics-and they are mostly clever fools-seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way."
Prologue, "Calculus Made Easy", Silvanus Thompson, 1910.
The most understandable math texts I have found have been written by Brits or Aussies.
paulthebassguy
4 / 5 (1) Nov 11, 2010
I actually agree with Marjon here. The first step to improving math results is to explain how easy it actually is. The academics in some fields need a good dose of humility.
Starbound
5 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2010
I wish our culture could teach kids math and science are cool. Unfortunately there seems to be a stigma against being good at math.
Bob_Kob
5 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2010
To the average person calculus is useless. Where is the net gain in teaching them this when you can just turn the kids into mindless consumerists like they're supposed to.
dsl5000
5 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2010
haha it made me think of the bumper sticker that says:

"My kid can beat up your honors student."

That statement there pretty much sums up our progress/attitude...lol
marjon
1 / 5 (5) Nov 12, 2010
To the average person calculus is useless.

No, its not. It teaches people how to think.
I guess that is why the liberals teach math so poorly.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2010
To the average person calculus is useless. Where is the net gain in teaching them this when you can just turn the kids into mindless consumerists like they're supposed to.
No, you constantly do calculus in the real world, it simply isn't apparent to you.

Calculus is the simple math involved in calculating the rate of change. It drives most of our economic, entertainment, science, and industrial systems.

No, its not. It teaches people how to think.
I guess that is why the liberals teach math so poorly.
You were on your way to getting 5'd, until you let your ridiculous bias get involved.

Want to know why the US is failing at math? Because we fail at teaching reality first.
marjon
1 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2010
Because we fail at teaching reality first.

And the liberals control the education system.
I guess it is not popular to hold teachers accountable.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2010
And the liberals control the education system.
HA! The Educational system is primarily focused on the Bush-Reagan policies and Bush Jr. No child left behind failure.
I guess it is not popular to hold teachers accountable.
It's quite popular, but you've always move the focus onto the failing student rather than the curmudgeon teacher who refuses to learn new things.
marjon
1 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2010
So it is a coincidence the teacher's unions always support liberals and oppose accountability?
The superintendent of DC schools was run out of town for promoting teacher accountability.
"Rhee, one of the reformist heroes of the documentary film Waiting for Superman, is expected to announce her resignation today after three controversial years as superintendent of the public schools in Washington, D.C. According to the AP, her decision to fire many teachers and insist upon a new merit-based teaching contract was part of what caused Mayor Adrian Fenty — who appointed her — to lose his reelection bid. "
http://nymag.com/...t_o.html
I guess it is popular not to demand teacher accountability.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2010
The superintendent of DC schools was run out of town for promoting teacher accountability.
The superintendent of DC schools was run out of town because the new republican mayor has made sure she would be, not for teacher accountability. Less spin, more truth. Try it sometime.
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2010
"Under Fenty and Rhee, D.C. public schools moved from the cellar of urban education into the vanguard of reform. The schools opened on time, with books and accurate counts of students. And test scores rose: Over the past three years, Washington was the only big city to show double-digit increases in state reading and math scores for the 7th, 8th and 10th grades."
"Can the city’s new leaders really find a kinder, gentler way to fix D.C.’s chronically underperforming schools? Or will they revert to the traditional practice of regarding education as a kind of patronage or public jobs program for adults?"
A govt leader that 'served the people' is rejected.
Populism, what a great philosophy!
Thrasymachus
5 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2010
Public schools are under the direct control of their respective local School Boards, who decide what textbooks to buy, and hire the administrative personnel for their schools. They have far more influence over the performance of our schools than some distant and relatively lax DoE. And since School Boards are most commonly used as political jumping-off points for future political careers, they are commonly filled with the most ludicrous, politically fanatic and ideological morons you will ever have the misfortune to meet. Many of them make Washington politics look downright wise. Until we get School Boards out of the hands of wannabe polititians, we're not gonna see any improvement in education.
marjon
1 / 5 (3) Nov 13, 2010
Until we get School Boards out of the hands of wannabe polititians, we're not gonna see any improvement in education.

Until we get unions out of controlling teachers, there won't be any improvement in education.
Thrasymachus
5 / 5 (3) Nov 13, 2010
Many states have teachers unions that are effectively powerless even when it comes to wage negotiation, and the idea that teachers are paid too much and have too many benefits is laughable. Unions don't control what teachers teach, what access to resources in the classroom they get, or anything else that makes a difference in educational outcomes. That's all the administrators. You can try to pin the failings of our school system on "teh ebil libruls" but the failure lies with parents who are too busy and don't care how their kid is doing, just so long as they're getting A's whether they deserve them or not, taxpayers who don't want to foot the bill, and Superintendents and School Board members looking to make a political name for themselves.
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2010
Unions don't control what teachers teach,

They enable bad teachers to stay employed.

Liberals blame parents, yet when parents demand vouchers and charter schools, even inner city minority parents, the unions and govt deny them.

The evidence is quite clear, quality teachers and a disciplined school environment are quite effective for all students.

mrN
5 / 5 (4) Nov 13, 2010
Unions don't control what teachers teach,

They enable bad teachers to stay employed.

Liberals blame parents, yet when parents demand vouchers and charter schools, even inner city minority parents, the unions and govt deny them.

The evidence is quite clear, quality teachers and a disciplined school environment are quite effective for all students.



That's so odd. I hate to bring this up but in Finland we have (luckily for us :) hope it holds) REALLY powerful unions and good education system. So i don't think that unions are really the fundamental problem.

It seems that american unions are either destroyed due law of the States or on their knees and very desperate. It could be that some weird symptoms observed are direct consequences from that despair.

Also some statistics i know of would imply that middle class of USA either is already or will be destroyed too.

Those observations *could* be connected...
marjon
1 / 5 (2) Nov 13, 2010
So i don't think that unions are really the fundamental problem.

Can bad teachers be fired by the school in Finland? They can't in the USA and in my small high school in South Dakota, we had a few tenured teachers that didn't care and coasted through their classes to retirement.
I see Sweden has vouchers and private schools can accept those vouchers.
Another feature of Soumi as well as other, similar small countries, is homogeneity. You have a common culture and expectations. That does not exist in most large US school districts.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 14, 2010
They enable bad teachers to stay employed.
No, lack of parent involvement in their child's education allows bad teachers to remain employed.

In Massachusetts, the state with the strongest teachers union in the country, I saw multiple teachers removed due to the strength of parent involvement. You like to blame Unions for everything when the responsibility lies in your lap half the time.
marjon
1 / 5 (1) Nov 14, 2010
So it is all the parent's fault:
"After the community fought to keep it open, Boston’s school department hired a new principal — Maud Wright. She’s made some dramatic changes.

“The students were not as ready for learning as they should have been,” Wright says. “And I’m talking about school climate. That was key. Another key area I believe was the data, just using what you have. Based on how the students preformed.”"
"Superintendents will have sole authority over improving these school — including possibly requiring all teachers to reapply for their jobs. They will have an easier time firing bad teachers. "
“The law is very clear that the standard for dismissing teachers in Level 4 schools is a different standard than in other schools throughout the commonwealth,”
http://www.wbur.o...-schools
Even MA admits they needed to make special rules to make it easier to fire bad teachers.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
You like to blame Unions for everything when the responsibility lies in your lap half the time.
So it is all the parent's fault:
This is why we're failing at math folks. Marjon thinks 50% is akin to 100%. I'm willing to bet he's as well educated as any republican supporting their new budgeting plan.
"The law is very clear that the standard for dismissing teachers in Level 4 schools is a different standard than in other schools throughout the commonwealth,"
You do know what those standards for dismissal are, right?

Parent complaints.

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