Is the U.S. catching up? International and state trends in student achievement

Eric A. Hanushek
Paul E. Peterson
Ludger Woessmann
Published Date
Fall 2012
Education Next
pp. 24-33
To find out whether the United States is narrowing the international education gap, we provide in this report estimates of learning gains over the period between 1995 and 2009 for 49 countries from most of the developed and some of the newly developing parts of the world. We also examine changes in student performance in 41 states within the United States, allowing us to compare these states with each other as well as with the 48 other countries. In absolute terms, the performance of U.S. students in 4th and 8th grade on the NAEP in math, reading, and science improved noticeably between 1995 and 2009. Yet when compared to gains made by students in other countries, progress within the United States is middling, not stellar (see Figure 1). While 24 countries trail the U.S. rate of improvement, another 24 countries appear to be improving at a faster rate. Nor is U.S. progress sufficiently rapid to allow it to catch up with the leaders of the industrialized world.