The condition of public education

In his fourth annual report, Gerald Bracey, research psychologist, continues to sound a more positive note regarding education in the U.S. Bracey’s aim is to put facts and statistics into proper perspective. Bracey analyzed data published last year in “Education in States and Nations,” a report from the National Center for Education Statistics that compares the 19 developed countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A section of the report contains the results from the Second International Assessment of Educational Progress.

These results show that a large majority of U.S. students (70 percent) score well above average. However, some groups of disadvantaged urban and minority students in the U.S. score near the bottom. Bracey points out, however, that the difference between the top-scoring country and the bottom-scoring country was only 39 points, while the range of scores within most countries is about 150 points on the same scale. Given the enormous variation within a country, he says, it is difficult to speak of average “American,” “Taiwanese,” or any average national scores.

Bracey believes that education expenditures are linked to performance. He notes that overall spending on education in the United States is about average as is our overall performance on international comparisons. Teachers salaries are average. However, compared to other countries, the U.S. spends far more on such things as transportation, food and special education and less on instruction.

With respect to SAT scores, Bracey points out that the SAT was standardized on an elite population of students in 1941. At that time, 40 percent of those students taking the exam attended private high schools, 60 percent were male, 98 percent were white and most were from New England. Students taking the SAT today are 30 percent minority and 52 percent female, and 31 percent come from families with incomes under $30,000 a year. Despite the fact that today’s test-taking population is much more diverse and less advantaged, the percentage of high scorers is at its highest point: 11 percent scored above 650 on the math section in 1993, compared to 6.68 percent of the standard-setting group in 1941. On the verbal section, there has also been an increase in the number of high scores: 2600 more students scored above 650 in 1993 than in 1992 (with only 10,000 more students taking the test in 1993). In addition, average scores have risen for two years in a row.

Bracey finds that despite increasing poverty in the U.S. and smaller instructional budgets than in other countries, American students, overall, are only slightly below international averages in math and science and almost at the top in reading. Finally, he reminds us that in the 1994 International Mathematics Olympiad, the American team placed first out of 68 countries, and it was the first time ever that all six members of the winning team earned perfect scores.

“The Fourth Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education”, Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 76, Number 2, October 1994, pp.115-127.

Published in ERN January/February 1995, Volume 8, Number 1

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)