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International Report Shines Light on Colorado Education Performance Gap

Update, 5/14: RiShawn Biddle shares some further valuable insights into the PEPG report’s findings on his Dropout Nation website.

Almost exactly one year ago to the day, I brought your attention to a report from America Achieves that showed our nation’s lackluster K-12 education results are by no means just a matter of poverty.

This week the good folks at Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) have published some insights that go a little more in depth and put a new twist on the comparison. The high-powered academic trio of Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann — the same crew that gave us Endangering Prosperity — have taken from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s own words to show readers that it’s “Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children.”

Readers also can go back and watch the hour-long event where Peterson explains the findings and answers some questions.

Most of my readers will be happy to know that a new Education Next article contains a strong summary of their findings, which highlight how American students perform compared to international peers based on the education level of their parents. (If you want to figure out how the academics did it, I recommend checking out either the paper or the article for an explanation of cross-referencing NAEP and PISA scores.)

The surprising bottom line? The U.S. does comparatively better among the 34 economically developed countries in outcomes for kids whose parents never completed high school (20th) than for kids with at least one college-degreed parent (28th). Seventeen percent of the former group are proficient at math; 43 percent of the latter group. But our gap is significantly smaller than a number of other countries.

It gets even more interesting to me when you can play around with the interactive map to see how different states fare. What we see in Colorado is a different trend than in the nation at large. Fifty-eight percent of students from highly-educated households are on track, compared to only 11 percent of their counterparts with poorly-educated parents. The Colorado gap is almost twice as large as the national gap!

Talking about the highly-educated households, the PEPG findings place Colorado ahead of 45 states, on par with the Czech Republic, but trailing world leaders like Korea, Japan, and Switzerland. If you compare with results from all students in other countries, you’d see Colorado’s highly educated kids on par with Japan and Switzerland but still trailing Korea.

Just a couple weeks ago, I told you about international PISA test scores from two Douglas County high schools: Highlands Ranch and Ponderosa, two schools with predominantly well-educated parent populations. Their math scores rivaled Korea, Japan, and Switzerland, which suggests that Dougco is doing at least as well as, and maybe a little better, than its Colorado peers.

Sometimes it’s good to step back and take a broader perspective, and realize that at least nationally speaking, our education shortcomings are not just the problems of other people’s children. The story is a little different for Colorado, where the results for students from the least educated households ought to send up an alarm. And even with their more affluent counterparts, opportunity exists to aim higher and get better results.