Several countries that consistently top U.S. performance in the Program for International Student Assessment also have more equitable education systems, but American schools are making progress, according to a new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the PISA.
The study, "Are Countries Moving Towards More Equitable Education Systems?" found that in 2009, countries often held up as educational role models, including Finland, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, had significantly higher PISA reading performance as well as smaller socioeconomic gaps. Socioeconomic status of the 15-year-old test-takers was measured using an index of parents' education and careers, as well as educational and other resources available in the children's homes.
From 2000 to 2009, the United States reduced the gap in reading performance between students of higher and lower socioeconomic status, but its students' overall scores on PISA did not improve significantly. However, other countries such as Germany and Chile, significantly improved both overall performance and educational equity during that time. German students, for example, improved by 13 points overall in reading, while the gap between more- and less-advantaged students closed by 25 points out of a total possible score of 600.
This equity snapshot comes as top U.S. education leaders call for greater efforts to close the achievement gap at home. As my colleague Michele McNeil reports over at Politics K-12, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday lauded a newly released, congressionally required report that proposed a five-point plan to boost educational equity.
The federal Equity and Excellence Commission's proposal in many ways mirrors the OECD report's reccommendations, including providing high-quality teachers at all schools and boosting early-grade support for students who enter school with academic deficits.
You can also find more detailed analysis of the changes in PISA performance from 2000 to 2009 from OECD.