The release of the 2012 scores from the Program of International Student Assessment, an exam given every three years that tests students around the world, on reading math and science, is going to provoke a lot of hand-wringing in the United States, and for good reason. U.S. students are sliding down the rankings in all three categories and perform lower than the OECD average in math.
The second wave of coverage is going to be about how East Asian countries are now dominating the rankings. There’s some truth to this narrative too, but also some problems with it.
The three “countries” at the top of the PISA rankings are in fact cities—Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong—as is No. 6, Macau. These are all big cities with great schools by any standards, but comparing them against large, geographically dispersed countries is a little misleading.
Shanghai’s No. 1 spot on the rankings is particularly problematic. Singapore is an independent country, obviously, and Hong Kong and Macau are autonomous regions, but why just Shanghai and not the rest of China?
As Tom Loveless for the Brookings Institution wrote earlier this year, “China has an unusual arrangement with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the organization responsible for PISA. Other provinces took the 2009 PISA test, but the Chinese government only allowed the release of Shanghai’s scores.”
As you might imagine, conditions in a global financial capital are somewhat different from the rest of China, a country where 66 percent of children still live in rural areas