New analysis by the Brookings Institution of international data suggests that using rankings as we do is misguided and U.S. public schools are not lagging behind the rest of the world as previously thought.
Using rankings to sort global winners from losers is often misguided, exaggerating tiny differences between countries that may be producing nearly identical results, says a report by the Brookings Institute, writes Greg Toppo at USA Today.
Researcher Tom Loveless said:
"Sometimes rankings can make small gaps appear big and vice versa."
And, after looking looked at statistics showing that the United States in 2007 ranked 11th among 36 countries in fourth-grade math, Loveless concluded that U.S. schools are not as bad as this might indicate.
By re-examining the data, he found that when nations with "statistically indistinguishable" scores were grouped, the U.S. group was essentially in fifth place worldwide.
This "group" also includes Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
"Nobody ever digs that deep.
"They just want the scores and the rankings, and they don't ever really look at this part of it."
The sagging performance in the United States was reported heavily in the education documentaries Waiting for Superman and Two Million Minutes. But Rick Hess, an education researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, also believes that data isn't always so conclusive.
"If this were part of a voucher debate, there'd be huge questions about whether the kids in the district schools and the private schools were being given the same assessment in the same way.
"But that has somehow just kind of been brushed aside when we're talking about the international context."
Loveless, who serves on the general assembly of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, also used the analysis to challenge Common Core standards – the proposed set of national academic benchmarks that President Obama and others say will improve schools nationwide.
However, Loveless doesn't believe the standards will improve schools at all, saying that states have had their own "common" standards for decades and this variability remains wide.
"The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools."