Returning to those sweeping claims made by the voucher proponents condemning the quality of Indiana's public schools, how does their charge that "Indiana students rank behind the countries Korea and China in math" fare on the truth meter?
I certainly hope the students at the private and parochial schools where those vouchers are intended receive more detail in their lessons. This is a tough one, because the statement cites no source. And while there's pressure (but no money) for the states individually to participate in international testing, it's not done.
The American Institutes for Research, however, did international benchmarking using results from two tests, the 2007 Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) results and the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Dr. Gary Phillips' results show that Indiana fourth-graders performed quite well compared to other nations. Yes, they lagged Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, but they outperformed the OECD mean, the U.S. average, England, Germany and Denmark. Korea's scores aren't reflected on the fourth-grade results.
For eighth-graders, Indiana students trailed Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, but outperformed U.S. students overall and the European nations.
Again, the data represents an estimate of state test scores on the international tests. More noteworthy is exactly who is being tested. In China, it's a select group of test-takers, as this op-ed in the Seattle Times explains:
"(In) Shanghai, as in most other Chinese cities, the rural migrant workers that are the true urban working poor (totaling about 150 million in the country), are not allowed to send their kids to public high schools in the city. This is engineered by the discriminatory hukou or household registration system, which classifies them as 'outsiders.' Those teenagers will have to go back home to continue education, or drop out of school altogether.
"In other words, the city has 3 to 4 million working poor, but its high-school system conveniently does not need to provide for the kids of that segment. In essence, the poor kids are purged from Shanghai's sample of 5,100 students taking the tests."
Until Indiana starts cherry-picking its test-takers, the vague comparisons of one set of test scores to a select set of scores on a different test ought to be left out of the voucher debate.