Which is Poorer: US Schools or US Students?

Every time another international comparison of educational test scores is released, US media and educational pundits wring their hands over poor rankings of American schools. “Experts” typically call for more educational spending, higher pay for teachers, smaller classrooms, more personalised educational approaches, etc. But hardly anyone calls for the one reform that is likely to work: providing a better quality of student!

International College Grad Math Rankings

International College Grad Math Rankings

Img Source: NYTimes

The fair way to compare the two systems, to each other and to systems in other countries, would be to conduct something like a PISA for higher education. That had never been done until late 2013, when the O.E.C.D. published exactly such a study.

The project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (known as Piaac, sometimes called “pee-ack”). In 2011 and 2012, 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 were tested in the O.E.C.D. countries (most of Europe along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Cyprus and Russia.

… As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults.

… Piaac suggests that the wide disparities of knowledge and skill present among American schoolchildren are not ameliorated by higher education. If anything, they are magnified. In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations.

This reality should worry anyone who believes — as many economists do — that America’s long-term prosperity rests in substantial part on its store of human capital. The relatively high pay of American workers will start to erode as more jobs are exposed to harsh competition in global labor markets. It will be increasingly dangerous to believe that only our K-12 schools have serious problems. __NYTimes

The rankings above were compiled from math test scores of college graduates, while the rankings in the lowest graphic on this page come from testing of 15 year olds. Both sets of rankings display dismal results for US students.

US schools are partly to blame for poor international rankings, but another contributor to the poor showing is a declining quality of students coming through the US school systems. The graphic below illustrates a rough “IQ ethnic ranking” in North American populations. As the low IQ fraction increases relative to the high IQ fraction, the overall quality of student in the school systems is likely to decline. This is most clearly seen in inner city school districts, but it is also seen across wide areas of the rural US south and southwest, where low IQ ethnic groups are providing most of the new students to school systems.

IQ by Race North America _ Wikipedia

IQ by Race North America _ Wikipedia

While there is always room for improvement in the quality of teachers and the quality of schools, if the average IQ levels of student populations continues to drop there is a limit to how much can be achieved through school reform. Also keep in mind that corruption in government school systems is very high in large cities such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, etc. Spending increases for education can only go so far when the new funding is misallocated to bank accounts of cronies.

The population fraction for hispanics is expected to skyrocket for 21st century America. The population fraction for blacks is also expected to rise, but at a slower rate. Asian population fractions are expected to rise, which will provide a small measure if IQ boost. Americans of European descent are expected to shrink significantly as a proportion of the overall US population — particularly in school aged populations.

Pisa Math Rankings 2012

Pisa Math Rankings 2012

Image Source: EdSource.org

In math, the United States scored below 29 nations and education systems in 2012 on the Program for International Student Assessment – dropping from 23rd in 2009, when the test was given last; the latest average score posted by the U.S. was higher than 26 nations and not measurably different than 9. Poland, Vietnam, Austria, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Latvia and Luxembourg passed the United States for the first time. __ EdSource

More on 2012 Pisa from WaPo

In a nation increasingly inundated by low IQ immigrants — especially illegal immigrants — improving the quality of students in the system is difficult. And it is not clear that increasing the educational budgets of schools does any good — as long as corruption levels in government school systems remains so high.

More parents of high IQ children of all ethnicities are seeing the wisdom of homeschooling, virtual schooling, and private schools and educational cooperatives. This will not likely change the international rankings significantly, but it should at least provide larger numbers of better educated graduates to do the important work that needs doing, to keep things running.

Increasing the numbers of Dangerous Children and R&D Communities would help significantly in the long run, for any society, no matter what their PISA or Piaac rankings.

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3 Responses to Which is Poorer: US Schools or US Students?

  1. bob sykes says:

    Your IQ graph assumes that each group’s IQ distribution has the same standard deviation. While I don’t all the standard deviations, the white SD is 15 IQ points, but the black SD is only 12 !Q points. Since the black IQ mean is only 85, fewer than 12% of blacks score above the white mean. This makes the black academic performance worse than the graph indicates.

  2. Stephen says:

    I remember Pat Buchanan had this article sometime ago about PISA: https://www.vdare.com/articles/pisa-and-bad-students-american-schools-add-value-but-demography-is-still-destiny .
    This article pointed out that when broken down by race, American students perform pretty well over their racial cousins elsewhere and thus US schools are pretty good at educating the human capital they are given to their potential. The problem of course is that the black and Hispanic underclasses have very little potential to offer.

  3. swampie says:

    I doubt very highly that those other countries put their mentally handicapped students into regular schools and expect them to take the same standardized tests as their non-handicapped peers. However, we do.

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