Suburban Schools Not Actually That Good, Studies Find

Suburban Schools Not Actually That Good, Studies Find
May 28, 2014

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org) is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)
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The schools middle-class families send their kids to aren’t as good as parents think, say two recently released studies from different sources.

A national study released in May found that U.S. students whose parents have college degrees perform worse than peers from comparable families in other countries. In the United States, 43 percent of such children tested “proficient” in math on an international test, compared to 71 percent of comparable students from Poland, 68 percent of those from Japan, and 64 percent of those from Germany. Of the 34 economically developed countries where the Program on International Student Assessment test was administered in 2012, U.S. students with educated parents performed better than those in just six countries.

A study published the same month about Illinois schools where one-third or fewer students are classified as low-income came to a similar conclusion. It found that, in 12 percent of such schools, more than half of students in at least one grade level were not proficient on state math and English tests.

“While many middle-class parents recognize the need for reform in schools located in poor, urban neighborhoods, they are often under the mistaken impression that because they live in safe, well-to-do neighborhoods, the schools attended by their own children are high-performing,” said Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute and coauthor of the Illinois study.

Not Just Other People’s Kids
Research is starting to make clear that it’s not just schools in urban or low-income areas that need to step up their game, despite widespread perceptions that poor kids are the main reason for mediocre test scores or that suburban schools are high-quality, the authors of both studies said.

America’s education structure, not just culture, is a factor in this mediocrity, because while Asian countries perform better than the U.S., so do European countries with very different cultures like Poland and France, said Paul Peterson, a coauthor of the national study and a professor at Harvard University. He also rejected the idea that American parents care more about their kids’ happiness than their intellect.

“If you’re not a productive citizen, you’re not likely to be very happy,” he said, noting that low-performing students are also more likely to go to jail or be teen parents.

As solutions, he recommended reducing teachers union power, improving teacher quality, and school choice, all of which are widely discussed but not widely enacted.

“The amount of choice we’ve introduced into American education remains very small,” Peterson said.

Learn more:
“U.S. Students from Educated Families Lag in International Tests,” by Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann, Education Next, May 2014: http://educationnext.org/us-students-educated-families-lag-international-tests/. Includes an interactive state-by-state map.

“Not as Good as You Think: Why Middle-Class Parents in Illinois Should Be Concerned about Their Local Public Schools,” by Lance T. Izumi, Pacific Research Institute, May 2014: http://heartland.org/policy-documents/not-good-you-think

Image by Steve Cadman.

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org) is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)