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Tests show U.S. children lag behind
April 4, 2001 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Tests show U.S. children lag behind A careful reading of this page reveals that for many of America's schools, children lag behind some 16 other countries in math and in science. However: not all states contributred data. But the important thing is that a few schools and areas were right up there with the best in the world. Perhaps then we ought to study those that work instead of bashing our educational system in general.
posted by Postroad (18 comments total)

 
I grew up in Eastern Europe, and these are some of my observations. I base them on my experiences in Poland, but they probably hold true for foreign coutries in general.

Basically, foreign countries tend to have higher control over educational entities, administering national school curriculum, or national testing. Thus, what you will see is that most of the public schools are about the same and students from different schools/regions tend to perform on the same level.

In the US, schools vary tremendously in quality. Different standards are applied differently in different schools, and students are expected to produce higher quality work in some schools than in others. What this amounts to is that even though US schools, on average, underperform many different countries, our exceptional schools beat hands down the best schools abroad.

Just my theory...
posted by Witold at 10:54 AM on April 4, 2001


America is the land of equality... we equally bash everyone and everything.
posted by fusinski at 11:24 AM on April 4, 2001


And Asian schools probably tend to do better because of all the cram schools the students go to after class. And isn't Naperville where those kid scientists who go on Letterman are from?
posted by gyc at 12:10 PM on April 4, 2001


You know, I've been reading this same story for almost 25 years.

And we're still kicking ass when it comes to the world economy. For stupid little math- and science-challenged morons, we seem to be doing pretty well.
posted by darren at 1:23 PM on April 4, 2001


We're doing so well in the world economy because their best and brightest comes over and works in the U.S.
posted by gyc at 2:19 PM on April 4, 2001


darren: I agree. Like I said above: even though on average US students may underperform their foreign counterparts, it doesn't really matter, as our best and brightest do better than those abroad. And it is them that impact our namtional economy, not an average joe.

gyc: you might find it interesting that the all (or almost all)of the Nobel prices won by the US last year were by foreign born americans. Essentially the same holds true for prior years.
posted by Witold at 2:50 PM on April 4, 2001


Other than creating a literate population, the link between a country's educational system and its economy is difficult to establish given all the other influences on an economy.

The significance of these test results lies in their political usefulness more than anything else. The Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress will use it to justify annually testing public school children. Not that testing makes kids smarter. But "bad" tests results can be used to justify giving less money to public schools. Public school administrators know this so they will do what it takes to make sure they get "good" test results. The net result will be that even less money will be spent making public schools places where children actually learn anything besides how to get "good" test results. Parents who can scrape together any money will put their kids into private schools, poor kids will be stuck learning how to answer multiple choice questions really well.
posted by jeannepickering at 3:49 PM on April 4, 2001


The net result will be that even less money will be spent making public schools places where children actually learn anything besides how to get "good" test results.

You know, it would be nice to think that, without standardized tests, people would have freedom to teach a variety of subjects well. The fact is, they won't teach anything worth a damn. Because why should they? There's no incentive.

Parents who can scrape together any money will put their kids into private schools, poor kids will be stuck learning how to answer multiple choice questions really well.

Well, that'll happen anyway. But standardized testing doesn't have to all be multiple choice. The MEAP test, (a standardized test used to judge schools in Michigan) for example, has written portions. The AP tests are also a model you could build on.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:14 PM on April 4, 2001


I haven't looked at the raw numbers for this latest study, but I'd be surprised if the difference between the best country and the worst was more than a standard deviation. That's often the result when students with roughly similar backgrounds are compared.
posted by drothgery at 8:29 PM on April 4, 2001


[Postroad] Perhaps then we ought to study those that work instead of bashing our educational system in general.

So once we do that, the next question is to figure out how to make the rest of America a rich, predominantly-white suburb.

[dagnyscott] it would be nice to think that, without standardized tests, people would have freedom to teach a variety of subjects well. The fact is, they won't teach anything worth a damn. Because why should they? There's no incentive.

Huh? No incentive? Did no one learn anything before standardized tests were invented?

The type of thing standardized tests sample isn't "worth a damn" either, in my experience. Basic math and english skills are great, but you can learn those things well enough to do well on a test without possessing any real intelligence or useful knowledge. You're right that newer tests include written portions, but I wonder how closely those are actually graded (and how well they possibly could be graded!), given the volume of tests that must be sampled and the inherent problems in objectively grading writing.

The best assessor of student performance and learning is the teacher.
posted by daveadams at 10:55 PM on April 4, 2001


The problem is when that teacher is substandard and quite possibly unqualified. Pay should be competitive with the private sector, then you'll get better teachers.
posted by owillis at 11:31 PM on April 4, 2001


Better paid teachers, smaller classes, smaller schools. Anybody think that these aren't the best answers to the US educational problems? Or, at least, the best goals to aim for?

We also need to change our perceptions of "school" and "learning" and move away from the "factory school" model we use now. Here's a glimpse of one possible alternative for some.
posted by jeannepickering at 12:31 AM on April 5, 2001


I've lived in 2 state in my whole life, California for 13 year and Texas. I feel that California did a lot better job at teaching than anyone in Texas did.
posted by ellis at 2:08 AM on April 5, 2001


daveadams: Huh? No incentive? Did no one learn anything before standardized tests were invented?

I'm not going to give you a history lesson here, but the fact is our teachers today are not motivated to teach. The vast majority of them, if given the choice, would do nothing but show movies all day. I know no one wants to face up to ideas like this, which shatter your simplistic views, but it's true, because I've been there.

jeannepickering: Better paid teachers, smaller classes, smaller schools. Anybody think that these aren't the best answers to the US educational problems?

I don't know if "better paid" teachers would be necessarily better. Teaching high school pays relatively well; and you have excellent job security, as long as you're heterosexual. But the problem is our teachers don't know their stuff. I don't know how you'd solve this. All I do know, contrasting particularly my English teachers from high school and college, is that my high school teachers tended not to really know what they're talking about, and hence just carefully prepare notes, and tell us what the books we were reading (or, more often, the movies we were watching) were about, when really, English classes should involve getting the students to figure this out for themselves, not being told what literature is about, because that's silly. But if they're too insecure, and afraid the students will come up with something they haven't thought of, or something smarter than you, you can't have that sort of environment.

And then there's school sports. If you want to know why Americans don't understand their government or history, they're to blame. "Yeah, we hired a new football coach. I think he's gonna teach history or something..."

Then: look at this post-Columbine stuff. (and similar stuff that was going on before) And immediately after leaving high school you're in college. And people who have had a hell of a time in high school will look at things like the School of Education and shudder, and think "Like hell I'm going to go back there," but people who had a good time will relish the opportunity to relive it for the rest of their lives. Now remember that in high school, intelligence is scorned, and being superficial is praised; the most important attributes are bouncy hair (for females) and athleticism (for males). The high school culture is so much against any type of intelligence, that no one who is intelligent wants to go back.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:22 AM on April 5, 2001


The vast majority of [school teachers], if given the choice, would do nothing but show movies all day. I know no one wants to face up to ideas like this, which shatter your simplistic views, but it's true, because I've been there

Maybe so, but what does this have to do with standardized testing at any level higher than a departmental-grade level? There are other ways to encourage good teaching. As for "simplistic views" it seems to me that encouraging standardized testing as a solution is exactly that.

constrasting ... my English teachers from high school and college ... high school teachers tended not to really know what they're talking about, and hence just carefully prepare notes, and tell us what the books we were reading (or, more often, the movies we were watching) were about, when really, English classes should involve getting the students to figure this out for themselves, not being told what literature is about, because that's silly. But if they're too insecure, and afraid the students will come up with something they haven't thought of, or something smarter than you, you can't have that sort of environment.

And standardized testing somehow changes this? If anything, it encourages this type of teaching. How can a standardized test measure how much a student is able to figure out for themselves how to interpret literature (or even movies)? It can't.

I maintain that (good) teachers in the classroom with students have the best idea of whether each student is learning or not. If teachers are incompetent or incapable, that's a different problem. You say college instructors are more knowledgeable... why is that? Are they subject to standardized testing? In my experience, they never are beyond a departmental level, and that's only rarely used in massive gen-ed courses that are the least effective of any college course I've ever taken.
posted by daveadams at 6:58 AM on April 5, 2001


I dunno, I suppose I got off the subject of standardized testing, didn't I? And here where I thought I was making a great deal of sense, considering it being before 10 AM and all.

Though, as you see, the entire second part was responding to a guy who said if we just paid teachers better and got more of them, all our problems would be saved, so I don't think that was supposed to even purportedly have anything to do with standardized testing.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:35 AM on April 6, 2001


The thing is that it seems like the U.S. seems to have more of a mixture of diffrent types of people. For every potential burger flipper, you have a kid about to start a huge multi-millionare computer company. Which works quite nicely since you can't just have a whole country full of engineers and scientists (that seems to be the belief of Japan and Taiwan, i should know, if from there) You also need laborers and workers for unskilled work. Even the laziest bum needs work no?
The second part is that America is a lot more willing to accept new ideas. That is the reason that many foreigners in the sciece field tend to come here. As a matter of fact, a large percentage of Silicon Valley is inhabited by foreigners. America was the land of opportunity 100 years ago, and it is still now.
posted by until_it_sleepez at 9:52 PM on April 9, 2001


What I would like to know is the cross-section of the population used in other countries forthese studies. I suspect that in most countries, students who show little academic promise are funneled, early on into non-college preparatory programs ("trade school"/"vocational school" tracks) and never make it into the statistics used for the comparisons. Not that this is a good procedure: in most countries, les jeux sont faits WAY to early. One's destiny shouldn't be determined by others in junior high school. Actually, it should never be determined by others.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:16 PM on April 9, 2001


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