The official statistics seem bleak. High school graduation rates in places like Detroit or Cleveland are under 50% and we all know that American kids score worse than the international average on math tests. But don’t confuse the nationwide average with what happens to your kids. In school districts like Mercer Island, where there is little poverty, look at how scores compare:
The highest-rated country, Sweden, had a 562 on the PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). Remember that the U.S. has wider disparities of income than the rest of the industrialized world, so our best and brightest really can be better than theirs.
Of course, even if your school system is wonderful, you are still worse off living in a country with lots of under-educated people. Inequality is a big problem for lots of reasons and this is only one of them.
[From an excellent article by Gerald W. Bracey, author of Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered (Heinemann, 2006). in the July 07 Stanford Alumni Magazine.]