Children of Shanghai Cleaners Better at Math Than Kids of Israeli Lawyers

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Parents’ professions have a significant impact on their children’s test performance, according to a new OECD study. Yet even the highest-scoring Israelis – children whose parents are professionals – significantly underperform their OECD peers.

Children with parents in management, high-tech or the so-called free professions, including teaching, medicine, law and journalism, tend to perform better on the PISA math exam than those with parents in other trades, especially unskilled ones such as cleaning or trash collection. For reading tests the differences are smaller, but still measurable.

PISA, the program for international student assessment, is an international standardized test in mathematics and language.

Israeli children whose parents are professionals scored an average of 512, on a scale from 200 to 800, on the math test.

The score is among the lowest for OECD member states, and is comparable with the average scores for the children of professionals in Turkey, Russia and the United States. By way of comparison, their peers in Shanghai scored an average of 656.

Furthermore, the children of unskilled laborers in some countries outperformed the progeny of professionals in other countries on the standardized tests.

The children of cleaners in China and Singapore outperformed the children of lawyers and doctors in the United States and Britain, where these professions are paid the most. They also outscored the children of Israeli lawyers and doctors.

In its report, the OECD emphasized that the results prove that children can be given an opportunity no matter how much their parents earn or what they do for a living.

The children of trash collection workers in Shanghai scored an average of 592.6 points on the PISA math test, while the children of Shanghai cleaning workers scored an average of 571 points.

Jewish children in Israel scored an average of 489 points on the math test, while Israeli children of managers scored 492 points on average – 100 points less than the children of Shanghai sanitation workers.

Israeli children of professionals scored an average of 512 points, while children of senior managers and executives scored an average of 513 points. Israeli children of engineers and scientists averaged 530 points, while physicians’ children averaged 521. Children with at least one parent working as a teacher averaged 495 points, while children of cleaning workers scored 424 and children of trash collection workers scored 437.

Israeli children with one parent in high-tech did relatively well, at 576 points on average.

Children of construction workers did poorly, averaging 413 points. The gap versus the score of the children whose parents are in high-tech – 163 points – is one of the highest in developed nations.

Children of Shanghai high-tech workers scored an average of 718 points on the math exam, one of the highest averages in the world.

The OECD notes that the countries that performed the best – including Japan and Finland – are those that ensure that children receive a good education regardless of their background.

A classroom at Jerusalem's Mofet Ramot Alon school.Credit: Emil Salman

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