The Economics Behind International Education Rankings

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 (at right). “Once again, we’re reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome.”

Tirozzi points out that other nations sort students into professional and labor tracks in early teen years. Not so in the U.S., where educators commit to educating all students and encouraging them to high standards into the high school years.

“The release of the (Program for International Student Assessment) data gives school leaders occasion to recommit to that goal” Tirozzi said. “And we hope policymakers and all with a stake in the success of U.S. schools will take this occasion as well not merely to consider the problem, but to recommit with us to solving it.”

Here’s the full chart of disaggregated U.S. reading score data from the PISA results:

When less than 10 percent of students are free and reduced lunch: 551
10 to 24.9 percent: 527
25 to 49.9 percent: 502
50 to 74.9 percent: 471
75 percent or more: 446
U.S. average: 500
International average: 493


Building a  Vision for Educational Equality

On Wednesday, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel met with U.S. and global education leaders, including Education International (EI) President Susan Hopgood, Beth King of the World Bank, and Angelo Gavrielatos, president of the Australian Education Union, to discuss strategies on meeting the target of universal, high-quality basic Education For All (EFA) by 2015.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel (center) confers with Australian Education Union President Angelo Gavrielatos and Education International President Susan Hopgood.

Sixty-nine million students are without any access to education and many millions more are in dilapidated, overcrowded classroom, sometimes without a trained teacher.

Van Roekel emphasized that elevating the teaching profession around the world – effective recruitment, retention, and development – is absolutely critical for success. According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 10.3 million additional teachers around the world will be needed to reach the EFA targets.

Educational equity and access, as well as human rights, EI President Susan Hopgood explained, are inseparable concepts. EI, the global federation of teachers’ unions, has been a leading global voice in advocating for education equity.

Hopgood also emphasized that teachers unions worldwide must strengthen and sustain partnerships with civic and social justice organizations to meet EFA by 2015.

— Tim Walker