School House Wonk

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine." Benjamin Franklin

Making the Mediocre Grade: Wealthy Suburban U.S. Schools

Talk to practically any suburban parent about the problems plaguing American public schools, and you’ll probably hear something like this: “Yeah, it’s tough being a kid in the inner city, but my kid’s school is great!”

Well, not exactly.  Jay P. Greene and Josh B. McGee have developed a first-of-its-kind “Global Report Card” that looks at how each U.S. school district performs in relation to its international counterparts.  By examining district performance instead of student performance, the Global Report Card compares academic achievement for “virtually every public school district in the United States with the average achievement in a set of 25 other countries with developed economies that might be considered our economic peers and sometime competitors.”  Greene and McGee summarized their findings at When the Best is Mediocre in Education Next.

The results of the Global Report Card provide little comfort to parents who moved to elite, wealthy suburban school districts in search of a world-class education for their kids.  Because districts commonly use comparisons between suburban and urban schools in the same state to demonstrate the superior performance of suburban districts, parents falsely convince themselves that their elite suburban district is high-achieving.  However, this comparison is meaningless.  Yes, suburban schools in most cases outperform their urban counterparts. But suburban U.S. students will compete for jobs with the best and brightest from Canada, Singapore and the rest of the world, not just urban (or rural) U.S. students.  Thus it’s critical for parents to compare their child’s school district with its global counterparts.

So how did wealthy, high-achieving suburban school districts perform on the world stage?  Time and again, the Global Report Card shows that these school districts fell far short of their international counterparts.  Green and McGee highlighted these elite school districts as typical of their findings:

  • White Plains, New York, in suburban Westchester County, is only at the 39th percentile in math
  • Grosse Point, Michigan, outside of Detroit, is at the 56th percentile in math
  • Evanston, Illinois, the home of Northwestern University outside of Chicago, is at the 48th percentile in math
  • The average student in Montgomery County, Maryland, where many national government leaders send their children to school, is at the 50th percentile in math

Perhaps the Global Report Card will spark a rigorous re-assessment of how our suburban districts are performing.  Otherwise, as the authors of the study observed, parental complacency will stand in the way of meaningful change:

As long as the elites hold onto the belief that their own school districts are excellent, they have little desire to push for the kind of significant systemic reforms that might improve their districts as well as the large urban districts. They may wish the urban districts well and hope matters improve, but their taste for bold reform is limited by a false contentment with their own situation.

Want to know how your school district performed? Click here for the Global Report Card and find your district.

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One thought on “Making the Mediocre Grade: Wealthy Suburban U.S. Schools

  1. Unfortunately the Global Report Card only dates to 2007 but it was pretty scary. Thanks Beth.

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