Why does the US have so many of the world’s smartest students?

May 20, 2013 at 1:24 am 2 comments

Useful piece that helps to explain how the US can be doing so well in terms of education and so awful at the same time.  The problem is our enormous variance, in part explain by our enormous size.  Averages are way different than individuals.

Part of this is easy to explain: The United States is big. Very big. And it’s a far bigger country than the other members of the OECD. We claim roughly 27 percent of the group’s 15-to-19-year-olds. Japan, in contrast, has a smidge over 7 percent. So in reading and in science, we punch above our weight by just a little, while in math we punch below.

But the point remains: In two out of three subjects, Americans are over-represented among the best students.

If we have so many of the best minds, why are our average scores so disappointingly average? As Rutgers’s Hal Salzman and Georgetown’s B. Lindsay Lowell, who co-authored the EPI report, noted in a 2008 Nature article, our high scorers are balanced out by an very large number of low scorers. Our education system, just like our economy, is polarized.

via You’ll Be Shocked by How Many of the World’s Top Students Are American – Jordan Weissmann – The Atlantic.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  May 20, 2013 at 8:54 am

    This is a bit annoying in its apples and oranges approach. It would have been much better (but still tricky) to compare the US with the European Union (part of whose raison d’être was to form an entity with similar size and other advantages as the US).

    For example, the EU and the US have roughly the same GDP (~$15+T) and the EU has about 80% greater population).

    How do the absolute counts of high performing kids stack up between these two entities?



  • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 20, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Note also that Japan at only 7% of the total, has 17% of the top students in science, 15.2% in math, and 11.9% in reading. And reading Japanese is a LOT harder than reading English. The graphic does not give me any reassurance that the US is doing well in K–12 education.


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