The idea that U.S. public schools are falling behind the rest of the world is widely accepted, but a new analysis of international data suggests that using rankings to sort global winners from losers is often misguided, exaggerating tiny differences between countries that may be producing nearly identical results.
In other words, maybe U.S. schools are not as bad as you might think.
"Sometimes rankings can make small gaps appear big and vice versa," says researcher Tom Loveless of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution think tank.
Loveless, whose analysis is out Thursday , looked at statistics showing that the United States in 2007 ranked 11th among 36 countries in fourth-grade math.
Re-examining the data, he found that when nations with "statistically indistinguishable" scores were grouped, the U.S. group — which includes Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands — was essentially in fifth place worldwide.