Thursday, December 8, 2016

We're Number 25!

It will not come as a surprise, but American children are still lagging the world in academic performance. When it comes to competing with their peers in foreign countries, they are not even close to the top. In most areas of academic achievement American children were average. In science we're number 25 in the world!

A recent test, called the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment was administered by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Evidently, something is not quite right.

According to U. S. News and World Report, the results showed:

Across the globe, American students were outperformed by their counterparts in 36 countries in math; 18 countries in science and 14 countries in reading.

The tests were given to children in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Puerto Rico. The results varied from state to state to territory:

Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Puerto Rico participated as international benchmarking systems and received separate scores from the United States. Massachusetts's average scores were higher than the U.S. and the international average scores in science, math and reading. North Carolina's average scores were not statistically different from the U.S. average scores for all three subjects. And Puerto Rico's average scores were lower than both the average U.S. scores and the international average scores for all three subjects.

How do America’s best, from Massachusetts, compare to the best in the world. Singapore students’ science score led the world at: 556. Massachusetts students had 529, which would have tied them for sixth place. Singapore students math score was first at 540. Massachusetts students came in at 500.

Even America’s best, on a state level, do not do well in science and math. But, we really want to know what conclusions we should draw from this.

Naturally, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, believes that the problem can be solved by giving more money to teachers. One would like to know the difference between children who go to charter schools and children who attend schools where the teachers are unionized. One suspects that in many cases, in New York City at least, children in charter schools do better.

Strangely enough, none of those who have offered commentaries on the problem are suggesting that Common Core has helped things. As many have noted the Common Core curriculum, the brainchild of billionaires who have nothing better to do with their money, has not improved academic performance.

Common Core was concocted by so-called experts in the field of education. Evidently, the most recent election showed that a lot of Americans are seriously tired of having their lives run by so-called experts.

Here is one suggestion, from the OECD, via Newsmax:

"The fact that students in most East Asian countries consistently believe that achievement is mainly a product of hard work, rather than inherited intelligence, suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling values that foster success in education," said Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director of education.

Ah, yes. Values? Hard work, discipline, focus and concentration. Doesn’t it sound a bit like the regimen favored by the Tiger Mom, and wildly rejected by American parents, educators and developmental psychologists? Or else, we can call it the Protestant Work Ethic. Which is not quite the same thing as an ethic that values fun and play. Or an ethic that seeks to stimulate creativity. Or an ethic that gives everyone a trophy.

Evidently, the American fun ethic does not do as well as the old Protestant Work Ethic. And, dare we say, an ethic that values competition and that rewards success would be most likely to produce high student achievement.

As for social context, one is obliged to note that stable families and stable home lives must count for something. A child who lives in chaotic family conditions will suffer from the instability and will be more likely to underachieve.

We also note that inherited intelligence cannot lead to excellence without hard work. This is a version of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 rule. Many people have dismissed this rule, but if its purpose, as I see it, is to promote the value of hard work, focus, perseverance and concentration it is surely a step in the right direction.

Wendi Kopp, founder of Teach for America and president of Teach for All offers another suggestion. She is too polite to suggest that Common Core, education by experts, has failed to improve students’ competitiveness, but she does recommend that we should learn from what other nations are doing well. Rather than turn to experts we can look at the way children are being educated in Singapore and Estonia and Japan.

She explains:

Even though PISA shines a light on policies and practices driving high performance and meaningful progress, only sporadic, ad hoc and generally bilateral opportunities exist to carry knowledge of what’s proving successful in one country to other parts of the world. Most countries write off the opportunity to learn from the highest-performing countries, since they are far away and seem very different. 


An urgent need exists for structured channels and funding for sharing knowledge and innovation across borders—in other words, for a dynamic network of global organizations that makes it easier for countries to learn from each other.

To be fair, these teaching methods are anything but state secrets. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Like a good bureaucrat, Kopp seems to believe that we just need more funding for a bigger bureaucracy. Then all will be well.

The reasons for American mediocrity lie elsewhere. We know what other countries are doing. We know what they are doing in Singapore and South Korea. But we do not want to adopt their methods. Our developmental psychologists and other assorted experts have told us not to do so. They have told us that these methods will turn children into neurotic automatons. We have dutifully listened.

We do not believe in competition. We do not believe in hard work. We do not teach perseverance. We want our children to be well-rounded. We want them to be popular. If they are teenagers we want them to have fulfilling sex lives and to be well informed about STDs and rape culture.

We do not believe in stable homes where people live in harmony. We believe in individual self-actualization where parents believe that their first priority is to themselves. In many cases they believe that this must take precedence over their duties and obligations to their children.

It’s the values, or absence of same. If we want to make America great we would do well to reconsider the way we are bringing up and educating our children. And we might start out by revising our value system, by rejecting the values that have been imparted by the therapy culture.

[Addendum: See also Alice Lloyd, on the PISA tests and Common  Core.]


JP said...

"We know what they are doing in Singapore and South Korea. But we do not want to adopt their methods."

Well, with a fertility rate of 1.3, they are a really neat sociological experiment.

Paul said...

I have heard, and I don't know if it is true, that if you take account of the racial mixture of the US that we are pretty good. Our whites are right near the top, our Indian Asians outperform India and Chinese Asians outperform China, our blacks outperform I think it is Jamaica, the only country that is both black and takes part in the international tests, our Hispanics outperform Mexico and so on.

The countries that beat us tend to be like Finland or else they are countries like "Shanghai" that do not really represent the whole country any more than Palo Alto represents the US (or New Orleans at the other end of the scale, for that matter).

Paul said...

And another point on the fertility rate thing. No country seems to have managed to simultaneously educate its girls to a high level and also not have their fertility fall below replacement. I guess success as a country may depend on educating girls, but not too much.

Trigger Warning said...

I'm not sure why folks get so wired up over American students doing poorly on comparative international assessments. Data show that over half the entering college freshman class need remedial "coursework" to be successful in college. Why the US feels the need to embarass itself by participating in these events, when the truth is staring us in the face, is beyond me.

I've had students in my introductory statistics courses (always social "science" majors) who didn't even know the order of operations and how to correctly solve equations with parentheses. Naturally, they faced failure so they dropped out; there's no amount of tutoring that can solve that problem.

You're partially right, Schneiderman. These young illiterates don't understand the necessity for hard work, but another large part is they spend so much classroom time learning how to masturbate and taking courses in "self-esteem" that there isn't time to teach substantive material. And the teachers, having degrees from schools of education (aka diploma mills), don't know how to teach basic skills because they don't have those skills themselves.

Of course, Ms Kopp recommends another bureaucracy and more education committees to solve this "problem", as if that wasn't the approach that got us where we are today.

As long as we insist on unrealistically inflated high school graduation rates and water down public education enough to achieve that goal, and continue to ignore the laughable lack of academic rigor in college education faculty, the problem will persist.

So get over it.

Farm Boy said...

What would really help national test scores would be to import millions of third worlders.