If States Were Countries

Unfortunately, this graph is pretty illegible, but it’s interesting:

So what is that? It’s something Gary Phillips put together that breaks out different American states and inserts them into the TIMSS international comparison of school performance:

Turns out that a few of our states are on par with the world’s highest performing countries when it comes to educational achievement. Massachusetts in particular stands out, and four other states — Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Kansas — received grades of “B,” up there with the likes of Japan. On the flip side, there were a bunch of C’s and one D+ in, of course, Washington, DC, where fourth graders learn math at the same level as Ukraine.

As Kevin Carey says, one thing about this is that it gets around the fact that it typically seems illegitimate to compare the United States to other countries that are often much smaller:


But New Jersey isn’t an autocratic city-state on the tip of the Malay peninsula or a Nordic socialist paradise or anything like that. Nor is Massachusetts (well, maybe the socialist part) or Minnesota or New Hampshire or Kansas. They’re all medium-sized states in America, subject to American laws, filled with lots of Americans in all the diversity that makes this nation great. Massachusetts in particular, the highest performing state, is full of people from all manner of racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds. It has relatively high business taxes and relatively good social services compared to other American states but it’s far from France or Finland or Japan.

To be fair, I’m not sure I would say that New Hampshire features “all the diversity that makes this nation great.” But I think the point holds. If New Jersey can have schools that are as good as Japan’s, and Massachusetts can have schools that are better, then there’s no reason to think we can’t achieve similar results in Oregon or Arizona and what have you.