The great Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg will speak at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston on Tuesday evening. He is a delightful, charismatic speaker who has a deep understanding of education around the world.
Don’t miss it!
The great Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg will speak at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston on Tuesday evening. He is a delightful, charismatic speaker who has a deep understanding of education around the world.
Don’t miss it!
The high pressure to compete for limited spots in university is a contributing factor to the high suicide rate in China among young people ages 15-34, according to this news report.
The story says:
Amid growing competition for university places and rising graduate unemployment, suicide is now the leading cause of death for Chinese people aged between 15 and 34, official media reported this week.
Nationwide, suicide is also the fifth leading cause of death across the entire population, the Beijing Evening Newsreported.
“We should prevent suicide in young people; in particular, suicides over the fact that they didn’t get high enough grades in the university entrance exam to get a place at their ideal university, and other reasons like that,” said Chinese U.S.-based medical doctor Jin Fusheng, who runs a private practice in Maryland.
“This is why we need to get the message out that all roads lead to [their goal],” he said.
“Suicide prevention requires a collective effort from communities, the media, families and the whole of society.”
According to figures from the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), 30 percent of the world’s suicides take place in China, where 250,000 people take their own lives annually.
This is an excellent and balanced article that explains why Asian nations swept the top places on PISA and at what cost to the students.
In the U.S., we have long had a belief in a “well-rounded” education, and many teachers believe they educate “the whole child,” thus putting concerns about social, emotional, and physical development in context with academic learning. Historically, there have been heated battles between those who want more or less emphasis on academics.
But in the test-centric Asian nations, academics come first, and some education officials in these nations are concerned about the lack of other dimensions of youth development.
“As a ninth-grader, Shanghai’s Li Sixin spent more than three hours on homework a night and took tutorials in math, physics and chemistry on the weekends. When she was tapped to take an exam last year given to half a million students around the world, Li breezed through it.
“I felt the test was just easy,” said Li, who was a student at Shanghai Wenlai Middle School at the time and now attends high school. “The science part was harder… but I can handle that.”
“Those long hours focused on schoolwork — and a heavy emphasis on test-taking skills — help explain why young students like Li in China’s financial hub once again dominated an international test to 15-year-olds called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.
“Students from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — all from Asia — were right behind.
“Students in the wealthy city of Shanghai, where affluent families can afford to pay for tutors, are not representative of China overall, although they are ranked as a group alongside national averages for countries such as the United States and Japan. Still, they are indicative of education trends in China and elsewhere in Asia — societies where test results determine entrance into prestigious universities and often one’s eventual career path.”
But listen to the educators, who worry about what is sacrificed to get high test scores:
“Still, Chinese educational experts are taking a more somber view in the face of the stellar achievements by their students, saying the results are at most partial and covering up shortcomings in creating well-rounded, critical thinking individuals.
“This should not be considered a pride for us, because overall it still measures one’s test-taking ability. You can have the best answer for a theoretical model, but can you build a factory on a test paper?” asked Xiong Bingqi, a Shanghai-based scholar on education.
“The biggest criticism is that China’s education has sacrificed everything else for test scores, such as life skills, character building, mental health, and physical health,” Xiong said.
“Even the party-run People’s Daily noted the burden on Shanghai students. “While many countries have been urged to increase more study time and more homework for their students, Shanghai clearly needs some alleviation,” the editorial reads.
“Japan’s education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, pointed to the test results as evidence of success in reforms aimed at reducing class sizes — despite continued criticism of the pressure-filled university entrance examination system. Many Japanese students also attend cram schools to get an extra edge.
“Asian countries do better than European and American schools because we are ‘examination hell’ countries,” said Koji Kato, a professor emeritus of education at Tokyo’s Sophia University. “There is more pressure to teach to the test. In my experience in working with teachers the situation is becoming worse and worse.”
G.F. Brandenburg, as you would expect, has a pithy and wise commentary about the PISA scores.
Here are his first three observations:
“1. There is a lot of evidence that being a good test-taker does not necessarily overlap with other desirable properties, either on the individual level or on the local or national or international level.
2. A lot of silly things are read into comparing how many questions they get right in one country versus another.
3. The United States has now TEN FULL YEARS in which it has based essentially ALL educational decisions on test scores, with a small but well-funded and powerful group claiming that it would produce miracles in raising American students’ test scores on every level that they can be measured.”
And here is his most brilliant, unforgettable, unassailable point:
“Arne Duncan and his ilk say that the fact that the same approach has failed for 10 straight years, means we need to keep doing it harder. Sensible people would say no, let’s forget about measuring with stupid standardized tests. Let the kids learn, remember that humans LOVE to learn stuff — it’s what we do as a species. And precisely nobody knows what knowledge of today is going to be the most useful or fun tomorrow. So let’s get rid of the idiotic focus on standardized tests and Big Data, and stop wasting so much money and time and energy on them. We’ve got all sorts of art and sports and drama and dance and music and technology and building stuff and real science and history and psychology to learn and to perform.”
This fascinating and informative comment was just posted in response to Tom Loveless’s earlier article about how Shanghai gets high scores by excluding the children of migrants from its schools and how OECD allows China to exclude the PISA scores from provinces with less than stellar results. As you will see, there is no coddling” in China. Instead, the pressure on students to study and compete for college entry is relentless.
The reader writes:
As a Chinese native living more than 50% of time in US during the last 20 years, I’m not at all surprised by the result.
Let me talk a little bit about China style. I’m not judging which is better, China or US – it’s just different ways of living, it’s just plain facts.
Two facts are unbelievable for normal US people in terms of the education of kids in China, and as I knew, somewhat similar in Japan and Korea.
First, you can never imagine how crazy the Chinese parents go for the next generation education. A statistic in Beijing two years ago showed that the average cost for each kid for before-college education is roughly 800K RMB – equal to 120K USD. Suppose the kid goes to college at the age of 18, so is about 7K USD every year. You know the average household income in Beijing? It’s about 16K USD. This is a simple math, people spend 45% of their income for their kid education. Bear in mind that not all families has only one child, in my daughter’s class, it’s about 1.4 per family. Well, this number might have been boosted up by some rich people, but it’s not unusual at all. My sister, who lives in a small town in a not-so-poor area, spends even up to 60% sometimes.
The parents just get insane to send their child to a better school. It cost about 15K~30K USD to get a kid into a good primary school if you are not living in the school district, just to bribe the school. Well, “bribe” might be a heavy word, you “voluntarily donate” that money to the school since the state policy forbid tuition overcharge. 15K is a huge number considering the average family income.
Second, it’s purely hardworking and fierce competitions. I still remember my high school days. The school did not have weekends. I got one half-day break each week and one weekend every four weeks. Every day, I got up 6:00 am, followed by a running of 3K meters, and then one hour so called “early reading”, then the breakfast. And after a whole day’s class, at around 5:00pm, there was another 3K meter running. After dinner, there was another two-hour “night reading”. The students were then forced to go to sleep at 9:15 sharp, by cutting off the home electricity.
Thank God, nowadays the education admonition forbids such hell-style training. No after-hour classes are allowed, and no more than half-hour homework are allowed for kids lower than 5th grade. Actually, three school heads were fired for doing so in my hometown last year. But that’s not a relief for the kids – the competition is still there. The teachers do not assign required homework now, but instead, leave the same amount of “optional” one which no parents take as optional. Many kids spend all their after school time on homework of all kinds–literature, math, English, running, sit-ups, craft, class projects, presentations, etc. When the sweet weekend finally arrive, they have to go to after-school classes, not offered by school now, but instead by commercial education companies – the most popular schools are advanced math, English, piano, Karate, dancing. You see, this is so called “the same herbal tea boiled by different water.” No policies could relieve one slight piece from the kids’ shoulders.
The competition arrives from the national college entry exam (so called “Gaokao”). You have to pass the line to go to a college. The good part is that this provides an equal opportunity to everyone, rich or poor. No matter which family you are born from, you have this chance to change your life. The bad part is that this is the only chance. In the remote poor rural area, “no college, no future” is what everyone believes, which now is becoming “no good college, no future”. And the fact is, China has so many kids, and not too many universities. The “Gaokao” is said to be like a huge troop trying to pass a river by a single-log bridge. You get on the bridge, you go to college, otherwise you just fall.
Gaokao is the ultimate goal of all students and the single most important thing before you graduate from high school. The kid’s future, the parents’ hope, the teacher’s performance and salary, the school’s reputation are all connected to this. In China, nobody knows about PISA, and nobody cares about PISA, Gaokao is everything.
Daniel Wydo, a teacher in North Carolina, sent this analysis of 2012 PISA:
Here’s what the mainstream media will NOT tell you about 2012 PISA. When comparing U.S. schools with less than 10% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, here’s how U.S. students (of which almost 25% are considered poor by OECD standards and of which nationally on average about 50% qualify for free/reduced lunch) rank compared to all other countries including one I chose to purposely compare – Finland (of which about 5% are considered poor by OECD standards):
*Shanghai is disqualified for obvious reasons.
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=556 [1st in the world]
Finland – ranked 4th in the world
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=559 [1st in the world]
Finland – ranked 5th in the world
U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=540 [5th in the world]
FInland – ranked 11th in the world
The NCES also disaggregated the mathematics data further based on seven total proficiency levels (Below Level 1, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, Level 5, and Level 6). The outcomes, as expected, were perfectly aligned with what we would expect in terms of the levels of poverty our students endure. For example, on the mathematics literacy scale, U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced lunch had 94% of students score at a “Level 2″ proficiency or above (a “Level 2″ proficiency equates to being able to use basic mathematics in the workplace), whereas schools with more than 75% free/reduced lunch had 54% of students score at a “Level 2″ proficiency or above, of which 46% of the 54%, scoring at a “Level 2″ proficiency or higher, scored at a “Level 2″ or “Level 3″ proficiency with only 6% scoring at a “Level 4″ proficiency, 2% scoring at a “Level 5″ proficiency, and so few scoring at a “Level 6″ proficiency, the reporting standards were not met. Virtually no students from schools with less than 10% free/reduced lunch ranked at the “Below Level 1″ proficiency (reporting standards were not met), and a mere 5% were ranked at “Level 1″ proficiency. On the flip side, a whopping 46% of students in schools with more than 75% of free/reduced lunch scored at a “Level 1″ proficiency or at “Below Level 1″ proficiency (28% and 18% respectively).
The dissagregated data for science and reading, based on the various proficiency levels, followed the example set in mathematics, although maybe not quite to the extent of variability when comparing schools with less than 10% free/reduced lunch to schools with more than 75% free/reduced lunch..
This is not a new phenomenon. For every administration of PISA and TIMSS, when controlling for poverty, U.S. public school students are not only competitive, they downright lead the world. Even at home nationally, when controlling for poverty, public school students compete with private school students in Lutheran, Catholic, and Christian schools when analyzing NAEP data. This is my own synopsis of the Braun (2006) study using large samples of NAEP data and using HLM to compare private school students to public school students:
In 4th grade reading (after adjusting for student characteristics – so an apples to apples comparison can be made based on SES and other student characteristics) it’s a wash – there is no difference in scores between the private schools and the public schools. In 4th grade mathematics, after adjustments, public schools outperformed private schools significantly. In 8th grade Reading, after adjustments, private schools outperformed public schools significantly, with the exception of Conservative Christian schools, which performed similarly to public schools, both of which were outperformed by Catholic and Lutheran students. In 8th grade mathematics, it’s another wash except for a very important caveat. While Catholic schools followed the trend with and without adjustments, Lutheran school and Conservative Christian schools didn’t. Lutheran schools were significantly higher, increasing the average among private schools, while Conservative Christian schools were significantly lower, decreasing the average among private schools.
One has to wonder why our media continues to barely report the connection between child poverty and their performance at school. The school reformers want nothing to do with it other than to claim there are miracle schools and teachers out there, although upon further analysis these are the schools that usually game the system and do a ‘data dance’ – most namely, charter schools.
The reports continue to be all about our failing or “mediocre” schools and incompetent teachers. I like the simple observation made by researchers in the past – if the argument is to be made that U.S. public schools and teachers are failing, then we have huddled all of our incompetent teachers and principals in our urban and rural schools, for they are the ones that struggle or “fail” – this is evidenced in the PISA data I provided and appears at every turn when outcomes are disaggregated based upon child poverty. Or are our urban and rural schools and teachers “failing” or “struggling” any more than our urban or rural police forces? Response times are higher in urban and rural areas (for different reasons), and crime rates are higher in our urban areas, so does this mean that our urban and rural police officers are failures? Can you imagine police unions if we were to erase officer tenure, step ladder structure for pay increases, LIFO, and bust their unions – and then demonize them because they can’t seem to solve the crime problems of our urban areas? Can anyone say value-added modeling for police officers estimating their effects on crime rates during their beat? The difference between police officers and teachers, specifically in this analogy, is that we are push-overs, ah-hem, I mean caretakers.
Bruce Baker has this habit of introducing facts, evidence, and sharp analysis–as well as humor–to controversial issues.
Here is take on PISA Day (drum roll, please). It begins like this:
“With today’s release of PISA data it is once again time for wild punditry, mass condemnation of U.S. public schools and a renewed sense of urgency to ram through ill-conceived, destructive policies that will make our school system even more different from those breaking the curve on PISA.
“With that out of the way, here’s my little graphic contribution to what has become affectionately known to edu-pundit class as PISA-Palooza. Yep… it’s the ol’ poverty as an excuse graph – well, really it’s just the ol’ poverty in the aggregate just so happens to be pretty strongly associated with test scores in the aggregate – graph… but that’s nowhere near as catchy.”
Read the whole post.
Today, he posted again, this time to chide Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for discounting the importance of poverty. Petrilli referred to Occam’s Razor to explain relatively poor math performance by U.S. students. Occam’s Razor is the proposition that ““among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”
Relying on Occam’s Razor, Petrilli writes:
“So what’s an alternative hypothesis for the lackluster math performance of our fifteen-year-olds? One in line with Occam’s Razor?
Maybe we’re just not very good at teaching math, especially in high school.”
Baker invents a new principle: Petrilli’s Hammer. Or in other words, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Read the post. It is vintage Bruce Baker.
Arthur Camins is director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
He left the following comment about the PISA results:
The release of NAEP, TIMSS and PISA scores always produces debate. How do we compare with others (and on what)? Among us, who has improve and who has not? Are we improving and, if so, are we improving fast enough?
You and others have cogently argued that quickly leaping to favored policy implications usually lacks much evidence and is often misleading.
Arguments in a democracy are natural and could be healthy, but I worry we are not making much progress when it comes to current education policy. Maybe a dose of engineering design thinking can help.
An essential step in such thinking is defining and delimiting the problems. The biggest problem with education is the US is not test scores. Rather, three central problems plague public education the United States. The most dramatic is inequity. There are vast inequities in educational resources and in the conditions of students’ lives, resulting in persistent race- and class-based disparities in educational outcomes.
Second, we are far too focused on a narrow range of outcomes — reading and math test scores — and not enough on a broader range of subject matter or essential domains, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills. Third, we gravitate toward partial quick solutions, rather than thinking systemically and having the patience allow strategies time to develop, take hold and be refined.
Next, we need to consider both values and technical constraints for ideal solutions. For example, we need to ask what mix of collaborative and competitive strategies align with our values and research on systems that have been successful in sustaining significant educational improvement.
In addition, since ideal solutions always prove better in theory than in practice, we need to plan for optimization– repeated cycles of testing, redesign and retesting.
Finally, to make progress we need mobilize the necessary political will. To do so, we need to hear more about common sense, high-leverage solutions– framed as messages that respect people’s intelligence and tap into their values, aspirations and sense of fairness.
I made several suggestions about these messages last week on the Washington Post’s education blog, The Answer Sheet:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/11/30/how-thinking-like-an-engineer-can-help-school-reform/
The Policy Consortium in the UK has a good overview of the British response to the PISA scores.
Each political party is pointing fingers at the other for the scores not being as high as they would wish.
The Conservatives say it is Labor’s fault.
The Labor party says it is the fault of the Conservatives.
But here are some good takeaways.
“… it is important to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and teacher shortage and disciplinary climate are inter-related.
Moreover, despite what Michael Gove asserts, a qualified teaching force is a key driver of quality and performance, the PISA data shows. Two findings are key here: first, the quality of a school (or college) cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. Second, principals of disadvantaged schools have difficulty attracting well qualified teachers, so students suffer doubly.
Much has been said in the media about the influx of migrant groups such as the Roma undermining provision for the indigenous population (all part of the attack on the EU by right-wing media). But, again, the PISA report shows this is first and foremost an issue of resources. “The concentration of immigrants in a school is not associated, in itself, with poor performance”, it says.
Nor is it a question of fairness. High-performing school systems tend to allocate resource more equitably across advantaged/ disadvantaged schools. Also, combining high performance with a high degree of equity is possible – it happens in some countries.
Another observation, with which all political parties would claim to be in tune, is that “schools with more autonomy over curricula and assessments tend to perform better when they are part of a school system with greater collaboration between principals and teachers”.
So, rather than sniping across the political garden fence, politicians should try to build a consensus around policy options that improve performance and equity. Four such actions which the PISA report clearly identifies are:
And here is another important finding:
From the outset, the need for a good start is clearly identified. For example, the report shows, one year of pre-school improves performance in maths by one year of schooling.
Better staff-student relations are associated with greater student engagement. “Too many students do not make the most of the learning opportunities available to them because they are not engaged with school and learning. Drive, motivation and confidence in oneself are essential if students are to fulfil their potential”.
Finland was not at the top of the PISA league tables in the latest assessment. So what does this mean for the future?
Here, Pasi Sahlberg explains that Finland never cared about being first.
What it wanted most was to have the kind of education that was best for youth development.
What will happen now that its scores have dropped?
Finland should not do what many other countries have done when they have looked for a cure to their ill-performing school systems. Common solutions have included market-based reforms, such as increasing competition between schools, standardization of teaching and learning, tougher test-based accountability and privatization of public schools. Instead, Finns must protect their schools from the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) that has failed to help schools to get better in other countries. The better way for Finland is to ensure that schools are able to cope with increasing inequality, that teachers have tools to help students with individual needs, and that all schools get support to succeed.
PISA results are too often presented as a simple league table of education systems. But there is much more that the data reveal. The Finnish school system continues to be one of the most equitable among the OECD countries. This means that in Finland, students’ learning in school is less affected by their family backgrounds than in most other countries. Schools in Finland remain fairly equal in learning outcomes despite the rapid growth of non-Finnish speaking children in schools.
Finland should also continue to let national education and youth policies — and not PISA — drive what is happening in schools. Reading, science, and mathematics are important in Finnish education system but so are social studies, arts, music, physical education, and various practical skills. Play and joy of learning characterize Finland’s pre-schools and elementary classrooms. Many teachers and parents in Finland believe that the best way to learn mathematics and science is to combine conceptual, abstract learning with singing, drama, and sports. This balance between academic and non-academic learning is critical to children’s well-being and happiness in school. PISA tells only a little about these important aspects of school education.