A New York Times article, "Math Gains Reported for U.S. Students" sites a new report that the US on average is improving in Math. “It was good to see that the United States has made some progress in math,” said Ina V. S. Mullis, co-director of the Boston College center, “but I was surprised by the magnitude of the gap between us and the highest performing Asian countries, and that should cause us some concern.”
So before we pat ourselves on the back, we are still getting our butts kicked in Math by the likes of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and etc. But hold on. Read the report and the other real story is not the magnitude of the gap between the US and certain Asian countries, it's the magnitude of the gap within the US between the rich and poor and between Whites and Black/Hispanic minority groups.
This gap is presented as the effect size in the TIMSS report. (available for download at the nytimes) The report takes the example of Hong Kong (the highest performing 4th graders in math) and compares them with the US. They found the effect size is a considerable 1.1. In layman terms, this indicates that the comparison between these two data sets is something policy makers need to do something about because the difference is real and significant.
On the far right of the graph you can see the effect size between US public schools with the lowest level of poverty versus US schools with the highest level of poverty. This gap is even higher at 1.5.
Check out the bars in between and you can quickly get a feel for the gaps that exist between whites and minority groups.
What does this mean?
Achievement gaps between income groups and ethnic groups in the US is not a new story. It is generally acknowledged that in the US, if you are poor it is more probable you are either black or Hispanic and living in a lower income area. Since US public schools are primarily funded by property taxes, this typically means a lower quality school and a lower quality education. The TIMSS report simply show math test results that support this fact. You can see similar trends in the TIMSS science scores.
What gets me startled is thinking about how much further behind the US poor and blacks/hispanics rank on an international scale.
It's bad enough as the world's hyper power and biggest overall spender on education (see my previous post on the OECD) can barely crack the top 10 on this short list, but down right embarrassing that the scores of our poor and minorities wouldn't even break the top 20. After all, it's not just the rich whites who will be competing for jobs in the global economy.
What do you think we need to do to change this scenario?