Suburban Schools Not Actually That Good, Studies Find

Published May 28, 2014

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 found 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 in Japan, and 64 percent in 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 spring study of Illinois schools where one-third or fewer students are classified as low-income came to a similar conclusion. In 12 percent of such schools, more than half of the students in at least one grade level were not proficient on state math and English tests, the Pacific Research Institute study found.

“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, coauthor of the Illinois study.

Not Just Other People’s Kids
America’s education structure, not just culture, is a factor in our schools’ mediocrity, because while Asian countries perform better than the United States, so do European countries with very different cultures such as Poland and France, said Paul Peterson, a coauthor of the national study and a professor at Harvard University.

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

As solutions, he recommends limiting teachers unions, improving teacher quality, and increasing school choice.

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: 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:

Image by Steve Cadman.