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Their learnding.
December 4, 2001 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Their learnding. "American 15-year-olds rank average in reading, math and science skills among their peers in highly industrialized nations, results the U.S. education secretary says are unacceptable." The article does not speculate on the causes of the poor performance. What do you think? Underpaid, under-qualified teachers? Too much TV? Math-Class-Is-Tough Barbie?
posted by gazingus (41 comments total)

 
The report itself, should you like to read it.
posted by iceberg273 at 1:14 PM on December 4, 2001


--Girls outperformed boys in reading literacy in every participating country.

--There was no difference by gender in math or science in the United States


it wasn't to long ago that many were crying about the disadvantages girls had in school.

I would also like to see performance mapped to district spending and teacher salary to see what, if any, correlations can be found.
posted by Mick at 1:18 PM on December 4, 2001


Why is it bad to be average among highly industrialized nations? Considering the vast diversity of our high-school population compared to that of other countries, I'd say average is pretty damned good.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:26 PM on December 4, 2001


I think that crackpots are ruining education. Crackpots as defined as: Wait, that's the parents.
posted by DragonBoy at 1:26 PM on December 4, 2001


The problem is not as superficial as it seems, its a much deeper social problem. Quite a lot of our society does not really value education, especially the lower-income families.

It's true that it is all in the parents, if the parents require so very little then the children will feel the same way. You don't know how many times I hear in school, "Oh my god, YES, I passed with a 65 on my report card, my parents are going to be so happy!!!"
posted by yevge at 1:36 PM on December 4, 2001


Couldn't tell if PIMS is related to the International Maths and Science Studies that are being conducted (reported in the economist (login required)), but they appear to report broadly the same findings.

One thing it doesn't appear to be related to is the amount of cash you spend:

Hungary spends the least and gets a respectable 14th place. I'm guessing it's Sesame street and Barney. 'Fraid, no matter how much you try to make it painless (and ensure every child gets a prize) there is *no* substitute for HARD WORK.
posted by RichLyon at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2001


The article does not speculate on the causes of the poor performance. What do you think?

inferior breeding?
posted by tolkhan at 1:40 PM on December 4, 2001


naughty, naught MeFi - previews the pic but doesn't post it.

Here is the graph economist
posted by RichLyon at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2001


The problem is parents. Parents who don't give a crap, parents who won't properly fund schools, parents who fly off the handle if little Johnny isn't constantly cooed and fawned over. Parents are the biggest problem facing education today.
posted by owillis at 1:42 PM on December 4, 2001


The Japan Times reported that Japanese 15-year-olds came out ahead of their international counterparts in terms of applied mathematics and science, but had the worst record when it came to reading books and finding time to study on their own, and overall seemed to lack intellectual curiosity.

I think this brings up an interesting question about what kind of education is most useful--whether it's best to accumulate lots of rote knowledge or be taught how to think critically and outside the box.
posted by mariko at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2001


Hey, I agree with MrMoonPie. What's wrong with average? Average people make the world go round. Our most important task is to make sure that the most brilliant students from other countries will want to emigrate here as soon as they are old enough. We have to do everything in our power to enourage them. That means giving super-priority to brilliant, well-educated immigrants. Even if it means buying them a house.
posted by Faze at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2001


Insufficient time for self abuse what with all the homework and duties around the house...our kids need a time set aside for wanking instead of waiting till nearly asleep or awake in bed. No wonder they are endge during shool time.
posted by Postroad at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2001


America is populated with far more white trash (to put it bluntly) than American TV wants other nations (and ourselves) to know about. Media skews our preception of the 'Average American' far from what it actually is. That's why it seems so surprising. We aren't, as a whole, as smart as we think we are.
posted by hellinskira at 1:54 PM on December 4, 2001


i'm surprised the US isn't below average, the way it comes off and all.

teaching pace in US schools are really slow (from personal experience.) not that it's bad, it certainly gave me lots of time to do other things that probably benefitted me more than what the schools had to offer.
posted by elle at 1:57 PM on December 4, 2001


"You don't know how many times I hear in school, "Oh my god, YES, I passed with a 65 on my report card, my parents are going to be so happy!!!""

You don't know how many times I heard "Oh my got, I got a B, my parents are going to kill me!" Which, in my mind, is far more dangerous.

our kids need a time set aside for wanking instead of waiting till nearly asleep or awake in bed."

Amen.

If you're not wanking regularly, then the terrorists have already won.
posted by CrayDrygu at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2001


While I'm in agreement with owillis regarding the importance of parental guidance in education, I don't think you can ignore the negative impact popular american culture has on education.

It's certainly not considered cool, or even socially advancing to prioritize individual learning before socializing in most American schools (with some notable exceptions). American teen movies, music, etc...for the most part, are focused on social hijinks, with academic types being categoried as unfortunate outcasts that should be encouraged to broaden their horizons. While this type of American popular culture prevades most western, industrialized countries, I don't think as many international young people take it to heart as dearly as their american counterparts. Perhaps their parents are better at deflecting such negative images.

Faze suggests, somewhat satirically, that it's not a really a serious problem, thanks to a history of encouraging foreign students to study and settle in the US. While I couldn't agree more, I have a sneaking suspicion that it's gonna be a lot harder for those foreign nationals to get student visas over the next couple of years.
posted by Mooskey at 2:13 PM on December 4, 2001


I agree with Owillis, the parents are ultimately the ones who are responsible for their young children. The government should do more to ensure that parents read to their children, and actively watch over their school work and class participation and performance.

However this is very difficult in low-income areas where many parents work two jobs and are simply too tired to pay very much attention to their children. In these cases, the schools should have after-school tutoring and fun, learning-type things to encourage the joys of education, such as reading and science.
posted by cell divide at 2:25 PM on December 4, 2001


So American students can averagely take standardized tests... okay that tells me a lot.

Really, I've seen kids with severe autism to prodigies take the same standardized test. This is not how it is Japan and other countries. In fact (correct me if I'm wrong) but getting into a good high school (or school at all) is hard in Japan. I bet you they only test the brightest. In America, everyone is tested.

I didn't see how these tests were administered in every country, so I can't really make a definitive "this was unfair" answer. Validity of the results, however, should be called into serious question.
posted by geoff. at 2:30 PM on December 4, 2001


However this is very difficult in low-income areas where many parents work two jobs and are simply too tired to pay very much attention to their children. In these cases, the schools should have after-school tutoring and fun, learning-type things to encourage the joys of education, such as reading and science.

Yes, because those poor people are incapable of parenting without somebody giving them extra help. Uh, whatever. If you're interested in your children getting ahead and perhaps doing better than you are - especially if you are low-income which is almost always coupled with poorly educated -- then you will find a way to support that regardless of how many jobs you have, the shifts you work and blah, blah, blah. It's excuse making. You either make it happen or you don't, and it's a copout to blame being low-income or being "forced" to work long hours for not taking an active role in your child's education.

The fact is, a lot of parents don't give a good damn -- and they'll give any excuse to cover the fact that they just can't be bothered. When schools have five different days for parent-teacher meetings and neither parent (when both parents are bothering to be involved in the raising of their own kids) can find the time to make it in for a forty-five minute conference, who is to blame? When kids are being sent to school hungry despite the presence of basic food in the home, who is to blame? When no one is checking to see if kids are completing their homework, who is to blame?

In most communities, kids receive a variety of mixed messages regarding the value of education. Many are attending schools which are overcrowded, underfunded, understaffed and undersupplied. These kids already have plenty of strikes against them -- but even for those in well-funded schools, parents are the key. They are the ones who have the opportunity, the only real opportunity to make an impact on their kids with the notion that education is to be valued, sought, excelled at, and prioritised about all else. When the parents fail to do that, the chances that the kids are going to pick up that message from another source are extraordinarily slim, and without that message, kids fail to acheive up to their potential.
posted by Dreama at 2:43 PM on December 4, 2001


Dreama, I think poverty does more than create a financial barrier to good education. I spent most of my pre-highschool career in extremely poor school districts. while my family lived well below the poverty line like just about everyone, I was one of the few children who came from an educated background (even though both my parents had dropped out of school at certain points, they came from upper-middle-class families that put a strong emphasis on culture and learning). just going into school with that different mindset had a big impact on how much I got out of my education, which could certainly be considered substandard in many respects (my first school was a central school that went from grades k-12; we had three kindergarten classes and barely a dozen graduating seniors each year because most kids dropped out as soon as they could at age sixteen). it's something of a cliche to say that you get out of school what you put into it, but it is true given the pre-existing limits.

on the other hand, there's no denying that wealthier taxpayers tend to produce better schools, because those schools can buy more supplies, offer teachers better salaries, and so on and so forth. so even the most motivated and dedicated parents could have a much harder time finding a good education for their children in poor districts than the interested-but-passive parents in richer districts.

as for the selective testing in countries like japan vs the inclusive testing in the united states, I think that's a good point -- but what about canada (and the other members of the overall top three)? don't they send all their children to school as well?
posted by rabi at 2:59 PM on December 4, 2001


I think poor schools are a red herring. While it is a problem, work ethic (parents) seems to be a much bigger factor. I went to elementary (primary) school in Jamaica, keep in mind that this was a private school (and so, with more money than most Jamaican schools) - and when compared to a regular public school in America, was woefully underfunded. Our library consisted of a bathroom sized room with under 1,000 books. In short, it was pretty crappy. That said, I learned a hell of a lot more in this school with its structured learning program and intense parental involvement than when I went to an elementary school in a relatively mid-upscale area (Montgomery County, MD) with a library the size of Kansas (in comparison) and money up the wazoo.

It's a feel good measure to "put more money in the schools" but if the students are not motivated (parents!) to be there, its just throwing cash at something without fixing it.
posted by owillis at 3:17 PM on December 4, 2001


However this is very difficult in low-income areas where many parents work two jobs and are simply too tired to pay very much attention to their children.

Then they shouldn't have kids.
posted by acridrabbit at 3:24 PM on December 4, 2001


--Girls outperformed boys in reading literacy in every participating country.
--There was no difference by gender in math or science in the United States

it wasn't to long ago that many were crying about the disadvantages girls had in school.


But how was the gap overcome? Did the girls improve or did the boys' skills deteriorate?
posted by joaquim at 3:36 PM on December 4, 2001


owillis: Good point. I went to a private school with a bunch of rich kids and man, were they lazy. Laziness/stupidity and daddy's bank balance seemed to be correlated - these kids knew they'd never have to work a day in their lives anyway, so who cares? There were some of them who worked hard anyway and did well - their parents encouraged it.

acridrabbit: If their employers were forced to buy health insurance that included contraceptives, then they wouldn't have to have kids. You can't force abstinence on the poor cause they can't afford the pill. I'm sure that's what the faith-based Bushies would love, but it's not gonna happen.
posted by phoenix enflamed at 3:37 PM on December 4, 2001


In the school where I worked in downtown Los Angeles, many of the parents were not engaged with their children. They were almost all recent arrivals from Mexico and Central America, and worked two jobs to be able to provide for their families both here and abroad.

To say "well they shouldn't have kids" or "they need to find a way to make it work" are non-starters. Most of the parents were very good, hard-working people who just couldn't get it all done, or at least didn't know how they could. I didn't mean to suggest that they didn't care about their children, just that there aren't enough hours in the day when both parents are working most of the time. Not enough hours to read to the child every day, not enough time to correct the homework (if they even spoke English).

One of the solutions in the school was to create an after-school program for the children which concentrated on reading skills, reading fun, afterschool books that the kids enjoyed, in the libaray afterschool. It worked wonders and the cost was minimal (keeping the security guard a few teachers around after-hours). We also did outreach programs for the parents to explain to them exactly why just sending their children to school is not enough.

You may find it hard to believe, but many people do not understand the value of education. It's essential to reach out to these people and try to help them, it will benefit society as a whole. I understand (and agree with) the attitude that the government shouldn't be relied upon to do everything, what I don't understand is the idea that actively educating parents as to how they can help their children and why is something to be looked down upon.
posted by cell divide at 3:51 PM on December 4, 2001


You can't force abstinence on the poor cause they can't afford the pill.

Well, there's always Norplant. That's what I use. It sucks that their employers don't offer health benefits, if that's the case, but Norplant is really inexpensive - I should know. When I got Norplant four years ago I was making $13,500 a year.

I just don't think the default should be having children, especially when you're not in a financial situation where you can provide the food, clothing, shelter, and time that is necessary.
posted by acridrabbit at 4:18 PM on December 4, 2001


I recently helped out producing a booklet for a central london education authority aimed at helping ethnic parents get more involved in their kids education - some work their kids to death (ie most Asians who all want their kids to be doctors etc), others don't care as long as their kidz get some sort of job.. The fact the schools can be quite appallingly crap doesn't help either..

In the end, a large part of how you do in your education depends on your home environment - I agree with cell divide, if you have parents showing an interest/giving a damn, it goes a long way..

I imagine a society one day where being a studying type person doesn't get you the label of 'geek' or 'nerd' from your fellows. Yeah..
posted by Mossy at 4:45 PM on December 4, 2001


In response to the "average american" comments earlier: I had that same argument with a couple of my friends the other day, and it comes down to who you associate with. We couldn't figure out who these underachieving dropouts were, exactly; we never came into contact with someone really underpriviledged.

And I'm not talking about poverty; people can be financially in trouble, and their kids are as intelligent and active as the next; I know, my high school draws a lot of inner-city kids.

What we wound up deciding was that we hadn't really been in contact with the "lower" intellectual level because we'd been on the honors track basically our whole lives. Public education seperates those that, for whatever reason, do well very early in the educational process. Then they associate with other advanced peers for the rest of their k-12 education through suck programs as TAG, the National Honor Society, and a host of other programs.

Is this good or bad? By seperating people this way, are we making it harder for underpriviledged students? Or, would mixing it up more simply drag the more intrelligent and engaged kids down?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2001


Yelling At Nothing, you remind me of a stupid (IMHO) thing my school system did (in Florida). We had a couple of "gifted" programs at my school (which I was in) and also one called "Cities In Schools" which identified the kids most likely to drop out. Now, I understand the need to help these kids, but it seemed that the school was always willing to lavish equipment, time, etc. on the CIS kids vs. the honors kids. This seems to me that you are penalizing the students who you want to encourage, and rewarding students for doing poorly.

This seems ass backwards.
posted by owillis at 5:28 PM on December 4, 2001


whooo, noticed a funny typo in that last post. It should read "...such programs as TAG..." not "suck programs." ;)
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:45 PM on December 4, 2001


Mick: I would like to see performance mapped to district spending and teacher salary to see what, if any, correlations can be found.

Here's one such effort looking at a single state [J. Klick, 2000]. Summary: spending and performance are uncorrelated.

Geoff: I didn't see how these tests were administered in every country, so I can't really make a definitive "this was unfair" answer. Validity of the results, however, should be called into serious question.

A valid concern, but the thing is, the same pattern arises within the US, even within a state, as Klick showed. So I think you have to confront the problem one way or another.
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 6:25 PM on December 4, 2001


mariko: I think this brings up an interesting question about what kind of education is most useful--whether it's best to accumulate lots of rote knowledge or be taught how to think critically and outside the box.

If you're suggesting that high test scores necessarily imply uncreative thinkers, I can't accept that. Yes, Japanese students have the reputation of being uncreative, but consider Hungary, which combines good math/science test scores and a reputation for very creative scientists (while spending the least of the bunch).

No, the Rousseauist argument that knowledge somehow excludes imagination, or that doing well on tests somehow precludes creativity, just doesn't bear scrutiny. I have had the opportunity to meet some of the finest scientific minds in the world. They're good at both.

Caution: American Taliban John Walker went to a highly progressive school. He thought a little too far outside the box. ;-)
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 6:51 PM on December 4, 2001


I didn't mean to suggest that they didn't care about their children, just that there aren't enough hours in the day when both parents are working most of the time.

So you arrange it so that one parent is home in the morning to make sure that the kids are properly fed and prepared for the school day. You arrange it so that one parent is home at a decent time of the afternoon to ensure that the kids are doing their homework and are on the right track, or is aware of the problem if they're not, so that they can help the child get the assistance that they need. This is not sacrifice, this is not extra effort, this is the heart of parenting. This is the job, period.

You schedule your life around your children, not your involvement with your children around the rest of your life. If you're not able to do it, then you get someone else -- a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a neighbour. You don't leave your kids foundering in what is arguably the most crucial area of their lives because you're too tired, overextended, overworked or otherwise circumstantially unwilling to take the steps needed to make it happen. Let me repeat -- this is the job. If you're not up to it, you shouldn't undertake it at all.
posted by Dreama at 7:10 PM on December 4, 2001


Hieronymous Coward, just so you know, that article by Klick is seriously lacking. Every researcher worth his salt who's done an analysis of per-pupil expenditure data since the 1960's has known that you have to include an interaction term between the per-pupil expenditure and whether the district is urban or suburban/rural.

In other words, the relationship between per-pupil expenditure and achievement varies according to where the district is. The best explanation that's been offered for this is that the urban schools have huge numbers of kids who are part of special education and bilingualism programs. The amount of money that's spent on them increase the per-pupil expenditure level and can mean something very different from a higher level in a suburban or rural school. (This is also why most such analyses now include only the expenditures that are part of the regular education budget, and excluse special education programs).

And nothing in Klick's analysis can allow him to come to the conclusion that changing per-pupil expenditure would have a positive, negative, or no effect at all. He did a multiple regression analysis, and that allows you to learn a lot about the way things currently are, but tells you nothing at all about what would happen if things were changed.

So his nice little foray into saying that wealthier districts can quite easily reduce their spending without having any real impact on the quality of instruction is so far beyond his analysis that he'd have been laughed at in any intermediate statistics course.

So - he wrote it as a senior in college, and it shows. He's a lot better at citing conservative thinkers and writers than he is at examining any of the more sophisticated research that's been done over the past 30 years.

(Oh - and that research shows a small, but still significant, relationship between higher levels of per-pupil spending and achievement. It works best when it's put into the regular education budget, and some studies have also found positive effects for raising teacher's salaries. These effects are most pronounced for schools that are very under-funded. When you're in the middle to upper range of funding already, adding more doesn't seem to do much. And it's not a panacea, under any circumstances - more funding for schools won't make them suddenly transform into perfect halls of learning.)
posted by Chanther at 8:23 PM on December 4, 2001


I am alarmed by the number of misspellings on this page, considering that there is a cheat built in to the page.

"...and put your garbage in a garbage can, people. I can't stress that enough. Don't just throw it out the window."
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 8:53 PM on December 4, 2001


Educational attainment doesn't appear to be proportional to educational spending, according to Third International Maths and Science Study which the Economist (subscription required) reports as the largest ever piece of educational research (in 1997). A graph in that piece showed that e.g. Hungary spends the least money per pupil i.e. about 25% of US spending, yet achieves a respectable 14th place compared to US's lethargic 28th place.

I blame Sesame Street and Barney. No matter how painless you try to make education, the fact remains there is no substitute for hard work.

(I've already said this once, but the Moderator in her wisdom elected to pull it. Maybe I should have confined myself to commenting about masturbation, which appear to be acceptable.)
posted by RichLyon at 11:54 PM on December 4, 2001


Maybe we should be asking New Zealand, Canada and Finland what their secret is.
posted by Summer at 1:54 AM on December 5, 2001


Also saw that according to that report the US and UK were the most unequal countries in that reading, maths and science scores jumped highest according to parental income. The UK schooling system is a scandal when it comes to equal opportunities. It's all a geographical lottery.
posted by Summer at 2:04 AM on December 5, 2001


I'm surprised that a lot of people haven't mentioned teachers. Most of my teachers growing up (with a few remarkable exceptions) were uninspiring, to say the least. I was lucky in that my parents stressed education and that from a young age I had a desire to learn. But what about people who don't have those parents? Most public school teachers aren't going to excite them into learning. I think the quality of teachers is, on the whole, appalling. People don't want to pay more for teachers and then they get angry that kids don't want to go to school.
posted by witchstone at 8:19 AM on December 5, 2001


Problems with education:

1.) Sports. They take away money from schools, and most of my school's social studies department was filled with coaches/former coaches. I think the only exception was a woman who'd been hired in the sixties. Do what they do in Europe and just seperate sports from school entirely, make them affiliated with city/township government. They have nothing better to do, anyway, apart from being bought out by developers.

2.) No one cares. Parents often don't. Suburban ones might want their kids to get A's, but don't care how. Getting A's != learning. Teachers often don't care. I know you're going to be offended, but this has been, for the most part, my experience. Education departments have become the trade schools of the twentieth century, they welcome people too dumb to get real degrees, and instead get dumbed down ones. Someone going into English Education, for example, doesn't have to take half the actual literature classes someone getting a (non teaching) English degree would. The administration doesn't know anything, because our schools are so big. If your principal doesn't know any more than 5% of your student body, it's hard for him to know what's going on. The teacher's unions are some of the worst of it. We should be able to fire teachers, even tenured teachers, if they fail to do their job -- believe me, I've had some that failed drastically. That many students don't care is hardly surprising. That any do is a testament to their character.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:53 PM on December 5, 2001



Maybe we should be asking New Zealand, Canada and Finland what their secret is.


Are you sure you want to know?
National Post opinion piece mentions:

Suspicions about the most recent survey, and Canada's startling showing in it, are further fuelled by some anomalies in the numbers. Of the 265,000 students around the world who wrote the test, for example, fully 30,000 were Canadians. Nearly one in 12 15-year-olds in Canada's schools wrote the test, versus one in 1,000 Americans. While the numbers were weighted according to population, it is clear that the test was treated as a much bigger deal in Canada than elsewhere. Could that have affected the results?

More troubling, Canada's results were achieved in part by allowing school principals to "exclude" more than 4% of those eligible to write the test -- the highest such ratio of any participating country. The grounds for exclusion under test rules are defensible enough -- mental or physical disability, and "non-native language speakers" -- but it's not obvious why Canada's exclusion rate is so much higher than anyone else's. In addition, as Canadian officials acknowledge, the test was not given in the territories or on native reserves.

posted by jheiz at 11:46 AM on December 8, 2001


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