Bootstraps: Mobility in Education Attainment in the US vs Top-Performers


by Jennifer Craw

(Download the infographic for this stat of the month here).

One of the most striking findings of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the United States is the fact that while top-performing U.S. students are scoring higher, low-performing students’ scores have declined in both math and reading since in 2015.

NAEP 8th Grade Mathematics Performance Increased for Top Percentiles
NAEP 8th Grade Mathematics Performance Decreased for Lowest Percentiles

This growing gap between those at the top and bottom of the achievement spectrum does not bode well for the next generation in the United States, because OECD data shows that the U.S. also lags in mobility of educational attainment, meaning whether or not students are able to attain more education than their parents did. The data show that the impact of parents’ level of education on a student’s likelihood for success is much higher in the U.S. than in our international competitors.

Students with Poorly Educated Parents

Those with less-educated parents are less likely to earn a college degree.

Students with Highly Educated Parents

While those with college-educated parents are more likely to earn a college degree themselves.

In fact, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is much harder in the United States than in top-performing education systems. In top-performing education systems, an excellent education for all students allows greater mobility in education attainment, regardless of social background.

For more on equity within the US and the need to improve it, see Marc’s blog “Inequality and Education.”