These days, the theory Hanushek hears most often is what we might call the diversity excuse. When he runs into his neighbors at Palo Alto coffee shops, they lament the condition of public schools overall, but are quick to exempt the schools their own kids attend. “In the litany of excuses, one explanation is always, ‘We’re a very heterogeneous society—all these immigrants are dragging us down. But our kids are doing fine,’” Hanushek says. This latest study was designed, in part, to test the diversity excuse...
As it turned out, even these relatively privileged students do not compete favorably with average students in other well-off countries. On a percentage basis, New York state has fewer high performers among white kids than Poland has among kids overall. In Illinois, the percentage of kids with a college-educated parent who are highly skilled at math is lower than the percentage of such kids among all students in Iceland, France, Estonia, and Sweden.
Parents in Palo Alto will always insist that their kids are the exception, of course. And researchers cannot compare small cities and towns around the globe—not yet, anyway. But Hanushek thinks the study significantly undercuts the diversity excuse. “People will find it quite shocking,” he says, “that even our most-advantaged students are not all that competitive.”
Using Palo Alto as the focus of this anecdotal argument is not very persuasive, if you give it some thought. If the people Hanushek runs into in Palo Alto, that is, likely people working in Stanford, Silicon Valley tech companies, or somewhere in the orbit of the two, both of whom are far more likely to have frequent interactions with well educated foreigners than the average person, if their judgement isn't sufficient to judge the adequacy of primary and secondary math instruction, even compared to kids in other countries, whose is?