Academic journal article Education Next

Just How Smug Are the Affluent about Their Local School?

Academic journal article Education Next

Just How Smug Are the Affluent about Their Local School?

Article excerpt

Is the high opinion affluent Americans have of their local schools unwarranted? Jay Greene and Josh McGee suggest just that in their pathbreaking report comparing the performance of students in 13,636 school districts in the United States with students in other industrialized countries.

Students in many of this country's most affluent school districts--Beverly Hills, California; Fairfax County, Virginia; and Montgomery County, Maryland, for example--are performing at only a mediocre level when judged against students in countries throughout the industrial world.

In their presentation of these startling results, Greene and McGee argue that the affluent have an inaccurate sense of the quality of their schools, in part because state testing systems encourage comparisons between students attending suburban schools and those in urban centers rather than comparing students with their peers in other advanced industrial nations. They worry that, as a result, the school reform effort lacks energetic support from a segment of the population that is politically active and thought to be particularly powerful.

Some of the results from the 2011 Education Next poll (see "The Public Weighs In on School Reform, features, Fall 2011) lend empirical support to this line of thinking. My colleagues and I found that 54 percent of college-educated Americans whose incomes fall within the highest income decile in their state give their local schools an A or a B on the five-point scale teachers use to grade students. Only 15 percent of the affluent give one of these two grades to the nation's schools as a whole.

Of course, the affluent are not the only ones to grade local schools less harshly than the nation's schools. Among the general public, 46 percent give local schools an A or a B, even though just 22 percent give the nation's schools equally high grades. And teachers prove themselves to be the most generous graders of all; 64 percent of them give their local schools an A or a B, and 37 percent give the nation's schools an equally high grade. …

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