America’s early teenagers are adept at many things, but when it comes to math and science, they struggle—especially compared to their peers from industrialized Asian countries. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that eighth-grade students from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore outright clobber U.S. eighth graders in math and science, as measured by the 2011 TIMMS exams (and to a larger extent in math). Nevertheless, American students outperform the international average, which includes a number of students from developing nations. Meanwhile, this report also cuts the U.S. data state by state. To do this, the researchers exploit states’ eighth-grade NAEP results to predict their TIMMS results.[1] The upshot: We can compare, for example, Ohio’s TIMMS results to thirty-eight other nations from around the globe. (Unfortunately, mainland China, India, France, and Germany did not participate in the 2011 TIMMS.) As with all U.S. states, Ohio’s students, on average, trail behind the “big four” East Asian countries referenced above in math and science. But Ohio does outperform the U.S. and international average. Massachusetts, the leading state in math and science, comes closest to these Asian countries in math, and it even slightly outperforms three of them in science. Well then, kudos to America’s—and Ohio’s—students for blowing away their peers from Morocco and Syria (as one would hope). But at the same time, shame on us all for allowing our students to dawdle behind the likes of Korea and Japan.

[1] The 2011 TIMMS exams were given to a sample of students from nine states (AL, CA, CO, CT, FL, IN, MA, MN, NC), in addition to the students from thirty-eight other countries. The 2011 NAEP math and science exams were administered to a sample of students across all fifty states, D.C., and Department of Defense schools. 

Aaron Churchill is the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he has worked since 2012. In this role, Aaron oversees a portfolio of research projects aimed at strengthening education policy in Ohio. He also writes regularly on Fordham’s blog, the Ohio Gadfly Daily, and contributes analytic support for…

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