Explaining Achievement Disparities between the United States and South Korea




Park, Eun Jung

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The educational systems and environments of the United States and South Korea drastically differ, and yet little research has focused on explaining which factors lead to differences in student achievement outcomes. Using the data on mathematics and reading literacy of 15-year-olds from the Program for International Student Assessment, this dissertation aims to reveal how student- and school-level factors are associated with student achievement outcomes within and between these two countries. I find that (1) schools are differentiated in both countries but the extent to which schools are segregated along the line of family SES is greater in the United States than in Korea; (2) Within-country examination revealed that school factors and their relationships with student achievement differ considerably between Korea and the United States. For instance, school autonomy measures have strong and positive relationship with school performance in Korea, whereas they have no statistical significant relationship with school performance in the United States. Also, school accountability measures, including positing achievement data is positively associated with student achievement in the U.S., but is negatively related with achievement in Korea; (3) Korean educational success is largely attained by the role played by parents, and to a lesser extent by the school factors. Parental involvement in education beyond the family's socioeconomic status is found to have strong relationship with student achievement; (4) Shadow education is the major factor that explains the U.S.-Korea achievement gap. The shadow education participation is positively related with student achievement in Korea, whereas it is negatively related with student achievement in the United States. Whether the finding indicates the causal relationship needs to be further examined. In other words, the question remains whether shadow education causes Korean students to achieve higher and U.S. students to achieve lower, or whether there exists the issue of self-selection, where in Korea, high achievers participate in shadow education to excel higher, and in the U.S., low-achievers participate in shadow education for remedial purposes.



Public policy, Education policy, Comparative Education, Korean Education Policy, Program for International Student Assessment, Student Achievement, US Education Policy, US-KOR Education