The best US high schools aren’t as good as they think they are

Keep reaching.
Keep reaching.
Image: Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko
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Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles County is among the most celebrated public schools in the United States. But compared to schools outside the US, its students’ test scores aren’t all that special.

The math and science outcomes at even the best US schools should be reconsidered in a global context if students want to be competitive in the tech-driven economy of the future, according to Michael Milken, the billionaire philanthropist and former financier who spent time in prison for securities fraud.

“We are misleading children here to believe that you’re in the top, based on a sample here that is not a world sample,” Milken told an audience of business leaders and investors at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2018 in Los Angeles yesterday (April 30.)

In a panel discussion related to the power of rankings, Milken took aim at the nearby Beverly Hills High School, a past winner of the US Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon Award for excellence.

“People say, ‘Boy, Beverly Hills High, they must be pretty good at math here in the United States,” Milken said, explaining that the school ranks in 87.7 percentile for math and science skills nationally. “But what if we compare them to Canada?”

The same performance would put the Beverly Hills school in the 46th percentile of Canadian schools, according to data from the Global Report Card, a 2012 international benchmarking of students’ skills by researchers at the George W. Bush Institute. In Singapore, Beverly Hills High would land in the 34th percentile.

Singapore and other Asian countries dominate other global indices comparing student abilities in math and science, including the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). In the most recent PISA rankings, Singapore won the top spot for math, science, and reading. If the US wants to climb the ranks, Milken suggests, it’s time to stop being so inward-looking.