While American students have high levels of educational achievement and decent test scores, they may also experience high levels of social stress and poverty.
A new report out Tuesday from The Horace Mann League, a public education advocacy group, and the National Superintendents Roundtable, a community of school administrators, argues that more than just test scores should be taken into consideration when comparing countries' education systems. In the report, researchers look at 24 indicators in six categories -- student outcomes, school system outcomes, social stress, support for families, support for schools and economic inequity -- in order to evaluate the educational success of nine countries.
Study authors compare school systems in the G-7 nations, seven of the world's largest economies -- the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. -- writing that it is "important to draw comparisons among nations that are as similar as possible." Authors also include Finland and China "due to global interest in the educational performance of their students."
"The goal was to look at the whole iceberg, not just the tip -- and provide a clearer snapshot of each country’s performance, including its wealth, diversity, community safety, and support for families and schools," Gary Marx, president of The Horace Mann League, said in a press release.
Comparison results were bleak for the United States. While the U.S. is the wealthiest nation in the report and has an exceptionally well-educated adult population, the study found high levels of economic inequality, low levels of support for families and higher levels of social stress than any other country examined. Countries' levels of social stress were measured in the report based on factors such rates of violent deaths, death from drug abuse and teen pregnancy.
"With respect to social stress, the indicators suggest the U.S. has the highest rates of deaths from violence and substance abuse, and that American society is 13 to 16 times more violence-prone than other nations in this study," the report said.
This violence can lead to stress that has a negative impact on children’s brain development, the report said. This type of impact on the developing brain could "undermine school readiness and academic achievement, and threaten serious long-term mental health challenges."
Additionally, while policymakers in recent years have worried that American schools have fallen behind on international tests, researchers say American elementary school students perform well -- although the study authors note there is room for improvement among middle school students.
On the other hand, Finland has low levels of economic inequality, low levels of social stress, high levels of support for families and admirable student outcomes.
The chart below outlines how each country fared in the study's six dimensions. On each level, 40 is the maximum amount of points a country can receive. A dark blue box indicates that a country has scored in the top third on a dimension, a gray box indicates a score in the middle third and a maroon box a score in the bottom third. (China had inadequate data for dimensions three, four and five.)
Jim Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, told The Huffington Post that he thinks the report's findings offer a number of implications.
"First, we should stop judging national school performance here or anywhere else on the basis of a single test score," said Harvey. "The second is we need multiple measures for what's going on in complex societies to understand what's going on in our schools.
"The third finding is, here we are, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and we have a shocking rate of relative poverty for children," he continued. "The existence of those levels of child poverty in the midst of plenty is really something to embarrass our country."