Discussions of how to close the achievement gaps for low-income and minority students often take center stage in education policy discussions. Yet students from middle-class families, regardless of race and ethnicity, also have some catching up to do to be competitive on the global stage, a new report suggests.
U.S. students from middle-income households fall short of the average mathematics and science scores of their middle-income peers in many countries, according to the report from the New York City-based nonprofit group America Achieves. It’s based on data on 15-year-olds from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.
Students were divided into four categories based on socioeconomic background, with the top tier including those from affluent families, while those in the bottom quartile had the lowest family wealth. American students in the second-highest category were outperformed by their peers in 24 countries in math and 15 in science. Those in the second-lowest category were outperformed by peers in 31 nations in math and 25 in science.
The report also drew on the findings of a new PISA-based pilot test developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that allows individual U.S. schools to see how they stack up globally. The results suggest that socioeconomic factors may have less significance than commonly thought, as some U.S. schools serving large concentrations of low-income students performed well, and some serving mostly middle-income students performed poorly in comparison with their global peers.
The report measures students’ family wealth based on a range of factors, including parents’ education levels, their occupations, and the possessions families have in their homes.
A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2013 edition of Education Week as Middle-Class Students Lag in Global Study