Archives for category: International

Education policymakers in the U.S. seem to think that more tests will produce higher achievement, but there is no evidence for this assumption. As this article from the Center on International Education Benchmarking shows, the U.S. tests more frequently than any of the world’s high-performing nations.

Jackie Kraemer writes:

“Unlike the top-performing countries on the 2012 PISA, the United States stands out for the amount of external testing it requires for all students. As the chart below shows, the United States is the only country among this set to require annual testing in primary and middle schools in reading and mathematics. A more typical pattern among the top-performers is a required gateway exam, or an exam that allows a student to move on to the next phase of education, at the end of primary school, the end of lower secondary school and the end of upper secondary school. This is true of Canada (Ontario), China (Shanghai), Estonia, Poland and Singapore. In some of these cases, the secondary school exams are used to determine placement in the next level of schooling such as in Singapore and Shanghai where the lower school-leaving exam determines placement in upper secondary school. And in Poland, Shanghai and Singapore the upper secondary academic exam functions as an admission exam for university. This differs from the United States where annual tests are used primarily for school and teacher accountability purposes.”

“How tests are used is also different among the high performers. South Korea and Japan test only for diagnostic purposes in the primary schools, and South Korea continues to test for diagnostic purposes through 10th grade. It is at the secondary level that they introduce the high stakes exams for students, with Japanese students required to take an entrance exam for upper secondary school and students in both countries required to take tests at the end of upper secondary school that will determine what kind of higher education institution they can enter. These tests are recognized as very high pressure for students and both countries are trying to address that issue. In both Korea and Japan, some students enter a vocational training system at the upper secondary level and take tests to qualify for vocational credentials rather than the tests for entry into university.

“Hong Kong and Finland have no required testing until the end of upper secondary school. Taiwan is a bit of a hybrid, with no required testing in primary school, but a Basic Competency Test at the end of lower secondary (along with three required tests a year in each of three subjects during lower secondary) that determines admission to upper secondary school.”

We can’t test our way to success. The more time devoted to testing, the less time available for instruction. tests are best usedfor diagnostic purposes. tests with stakes attached are delayed in these nations until secondary schools. We should learn from the leaders of the pack.

I received news from England that a letter written by Rachel Tomlinson, the head of Barrowford, a primary school in Lancashire, went viral.

The letter was a clone of one written by American teacher Kimberly Hurd Horst on her blog.

No claims of plagiarism here. Maybe every principal and teacher should send the same letter home when students get their Common Core test scores, saying they failed. Remind parents that children are more than a test score. Tell them that the passing mark was set unreasonably high. Tell them that the tests failed, not the children.

In October last year Hurd Horst wrote on her blog: “There are many more ways to be smart than what many schools are currently allowing. The current testing culture personally drives me crazy. It does not tell students that they matter. Tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each student special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each student the way I do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way the families do. They do not know that some of my students speak two languages. They do not know that they can play a musical instrument or that they can dance or paint a picture. Doesn’t that matter more?”

The school seemed to acknowledge debt to Hurd, retweeting a comment from someone linking to her blog.

C.M. Rubin traveled the globe and interviewed educators with interesting ideas, insights, experience.

She conducted more than 250 interviews.

She invited Adam Steiner, a technology specialist in the Holliston, Massachusetts, public schools to review them and select the Top Ten.

I am happy to say that I am one of them.

Read here to find the Top Ten and their interviews.

Andy Hargreaves of Boston College asks an important question: What is the purpose of benchmarking? We collect data, we measure, we test, we set goals, but why? Will it improve performance if we know that someone else does it better? Do they have the same challenges, the same resources? Is there more to education than raising tests ores and do higher test scores necessarily mean better education?

Andy begins with two stories about benchmarking, one positive, one negative. One improved public health, one made it easier to conduct war.

Right now, under pressure from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, everything is measured. Why? To fire teachers and principals? To close schools? To hand public property to entrepreneurs? Who benefits? What do we do with the losers? Throw them away? Plenty of children were left behind, and many will not make it to “the top.”

Andy writes:

“Is the purpose of our educational benchmarking to further the public good, to raise the standards of education for all, to elevate the poorest and most disadvantaged students to the greatest heights of accomplishment? And once we have done our calculations and made our maps, what pathways will be opened up, and what people and resources will be pulled along them in this worthy quest for equity and excellence? The White House announced earlier this summer that it would address educational inequities by collecting data to help pinpoint where they existed, but there seemed to be no plan to bring up the people and resources to correct them.

“Is there a second purpose of educational benchmarking then? Is it to delineate the weak from the strong, inciting nation to compete against nation, Americans against Asians, and school against school. After we have pinpointed schools that are failing, does this just make it easier for invading opportunists to set up charter schools in their place, or to market online alternatives, tutoring services and the like?

“As in surveying, benchmarking in education should be about discovering where we stand and learning about who we are and what we do by observing those around us. It should be about improving public education, just as the sewer maps for my hometown contributed to public sanitation. Benchmarking should not be about fomenting panics about performance in relation to overseas competitors. And it should not be about dividing schools, families and communities from each other to create easy pickings for the educational market.

“Whenever we are engaged in the data-driven detail of educational benchmarking, these are the greater questions we should be asking. Of what map or whose map are we the servants?”

Stephen Krashen, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California and a noted linguist and researcher, wrote the following commentary:

“Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann (2014) claim that when we examine students from “advantaged” families, American students do poorly in math: Our rich kids do worse than rich kids from other countries. Hanushek et. al. conclude that this shows that poverty is not the only factor affecting school performance. Their conclusions are based on their analysis of data from the 2012 PIRLS examination, tests given to 15-year-olds in a large number of countries.

“Berliner (2014) argued that Hanushek et. al. used an invalid measure of “advantaged”: at least one parent who graduated college. He also argued that a more valid measure is parental income. Many college graduates, Berliner pointed out, are not in high-income professions.

“Here is Berliner’s paper, followed by my analysis, confirming that Berliner is, for the most part, right: Parental education is not the way to define “advantaged.” Poverty, defined by parental income, predicts math and reading achievement for 49 states in the US even when parental education is controlled, and predicts math achievement on international tests.

“Berliner, D. 2014. Criticism via Sleight of Hand https://dianeravitch.net/2014/07/29/david-berliner-responds-to-economists-who-discount-role-of-child-poverty/

http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2014/08/do-american-rich-kids-do-worse-on_3.html”

When Stephen Colbert interviewed Campbell Brown, he asked her who was funding her activities against unions and teacher tenure. She said she couldn’t reveal their names because she had to protect them, presumably against the few dozen moms protesting outside Colbert’s studio with hand-lettered signs.

Mother Crusader found through her diligent research skills that Campbell Brown is aligned with some “vulture” capitalists, and it might be better for her cause to keep their identities secret.

Darcie Cimarusti (Mother Crusader) writes this:

“I’ve already taken a look at the Board of Directors of Brown’s new outfit, Partners for Educational Justice, which brings together reformy heavyweights from groups like StudentsFirstNY, DFER and NYCAN, and all the money, power, and influence behind those groups.

“But I’m embarrassed to say, I missed a HUGE piece of the puzzle.

“In my last post I described Brown’s husband, Dan Senor, as a board member for StudentsFirstNY and a former advisor for Mitt Romney. But I missed two gigantic parts of his backstory.

“Senor first came to prominence as a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, gaining a reputation as “the spinmeister responsible for selling the early years of the occupation … as a rosy time—even as bombs exploded daily and sectarian violence ripped apart the country.”[1]

“After leaving the Bush administration, Senor—who is the spouse of former CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown—became a guest commentator on foreign policy issues for Fox News and a private equity executive. He co-founded the investment firm Rosemont Capital LLC[2] before joining Elliott Management, the hedge fund firm owned by Paul Singer, a billionaire Wall Street investor who has given millions to Republican political campaigns and neoconservative advocacy groups.[3] (emphasis mine)

“So Brown’s husband is a wartime spinmeister, education reformer, AND a Wall Street hedge fund guy? How did I miss that?!?

“And who is Paul SInger, the guy who was able to lure Senor away from the investment firm he co-founded?”

And Mother Crusader continues:

“Singer is the big power broker in the Republican financial world,” says one operative who knows him. “He’s involved with almost everything.” Fortune described him as “a passionate defender of the 1%.” In practical terms, notes one conservative donor, “if you write checks as big as Singer’s, you can be close to anyone.” (emphasis mine)

“Check out how Singer makes his money.

“Mr. Singer is perhaps best known for the fight he put up — and the money he made — in his battle over Peruvian debt. In 1996, he paid $11.4 million for $20 million worth of discounted, government-backed Peruvian bank debt. Then, rather than joining with 180 other Peruvian creditors who agreed to a plan using bonds to forgive some of the impoverished country’s debt, Mr. Singer held out for bigger payments.

“He battled in the courts. At one point he hired an Albany lobbying firm and got New York State to change an obscure law to strengthen his position. When the dust had settled, Mr. Singer ended up getting $58 million for his Peruvian investment.
Groups advocating debt relief — and higher-profile people like Bono — criticize such transactions, maintaining that they force poor countries to divert money from social and economic programs in order to pay back investors. The International Monetary Fund, where a top official once labeled Mr. Singer’s firm a “vulture company,” issued a report recently saying that such funds present a “major challenge” to the success of debt-relief programs in poor countries. (emphasis mine)
Excuse me, but HOLY S%&*!!

“Reading about Singer’s practices in poor, distressed countries around the world is horrific. This is from truthout and Democracy Now!.

“You know, right now what’s happening in this particular case is now these vulture funds have been equipped with an instrument that’s going to force poor countries, like the Ivory Coast and Zambia, into submission. So it’s a very powerful precedent that will be impacting the one-out-of-five people that live in extreme poverty around the world.

……
“AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Eric LeCompte, very quickly, in 30 seconds, about Paul Singer, who is the head of the parent company of NML?

“ERIC LECOMPTE: So, essentially, he’s the person that’s developed this predatory behavior, that goes after assets in poor countries that essentially belong to vulnerable communities. He’s the person that leads several firms that are these predatory hedge funds which engage in this exploitative, extreme behavior. And he’s popularized, essentially, this kind of investor action around the world. And right now the World Bank notes that there are about a hundred companies that follow, essentially, the leadership that Paul Singer has laid out in terms of this behavior.

“AMY GOODMAN: And his significance in national politics? Five seconds.

“ERIC LECOMPTE: Yeah, he’s the number one donor to the GOP. (emphasis mine)
Senor and Singer are some seriously scary dudes.”

There is simply no way they are going to be intimidated by a small clutch of protesters milling around outside Colbert’s studio, but that was one hell of an act Brown put on! Singer, and presumably Brown’s husband, take on entire countries for heaven’s sake!”

Secretary Arne Duncan has frequently pointed to the high test scores of students in South Korea as a model for American students to copy. We have heard again and again that we are losing “the global competition” to nations like South Korea where students and parents take tests very seriously. Our students, the Secretary never tires of telling us, are slackers. Their parents want them to be well-rounded when they should all be enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, burning the midnight oil, or attending after-school programs in ever-longer school days.

On Sunday, the New York Times published an article that refuted the myth of South Korea as the acme of educational excellence. The South Korean system, the author writes, is “an assault upon our children.” If all you care about is test scores, South Korean schools look great. But if you want students who are thoughtful, creative, and engaged in their learning, look elsewhere, writes Se-Woong Koo, whose family moved from Seoul to Vancouver to avoid the stress of South Korean schooling. Most parents pressure students to excel in their studies and to do whatever it takes to get high scores.

“Thirteen years later, in 2008,” the author writes, “I taught advanced English grammar to 11-year-olds at an expensive cram school in the wealthy Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam. The students were serious about studying but their eyes appeared dead.”

“The world may look to South Korea as a model for education — its students rank among the best on international education tests — but the system’s dark side casts a long shadow. Dominated by Tiger Moms, cram schools and highly authoritarian teachers, South Korean education produces ranks of overachieving students who pay a stiff price in health and happiness. The entire program amounts to child abuse. It should be reformed and restructured without delay…..

“Cram schools like the one I taught in — known as hagwons in Korean — are a mainstay of the South Korean education system and a symbol of parental yearning to see their children succeed at all costs. Hagwons are soulless facilities, with room after room divided by thin walls, lit by long fluorescent bulbs, and stuffed with students memorizing English vocabulary, Korean grammar rules and math formulas. Students typically stay after regular school hours until 10 p.m. or later.”

“This “investment” in education is what has been used to explain South Koreans’ spectacular scores on the Program for International Student Assessment, increasingly the standard by which students from all over the world are compared to one another.

“But a system driven by overzealous parents and a leviathan private industry is unsustainable over the long run, especially given the physical and psychological costs that students are forced to bear.

“Many young South Koreans suffer physical symptoms of academic stress, like my brother did. In a typical case, one friend reported losing clumps of hair as she focused on her studies in high school; her hair regrew only when she entered college.”

The South Korean system is institutionalized child abuse. Children exist either to glorify the family or to build the national economy. What has been sacrificed? The happiness of the children; the right to live a normal life in which they are not cogs in a national economic machine.

Are you listening, Secretary Duncan? Are you listening, “New York Times” columnists and editorial board? Are you listening, television pundits?

The renowned Finnish educator, Pasi Sahlberg, explains how major American innovations improved education in Finland but are all too often forgotten here, where they originated.

He begins with a new report from the OECD that measures educational innovation between 2003 and 2011. The U.S. does not get high rankings from the OECD, yet oddly enough, other nations send delegations here to learn about what we do that has made us such a successful nation.

Sahlberg writes:

“An interesting observation that anyone interested in what current high-performing school systems have in common is that they all, some more than the others, have derived critical lessons from abroad. Singapore, one of the most successful reformers and highest performers in global education, has been sending students to study education in U.S. universities and encouraged university professors to collaborate in teaching and research with their American colleagues. Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea have done the same. More recently China has also benefited from education innovation from the United States and other Western education systems. Even those running school systems above the 49th parallel in North America admit that U.S. research and innovation have been instrumental in making education in Canada world-class.

“Finland is no exception. If you want to discover the origins of the most successful practices in pedagogy, student assessment, school leadership, and school improvement in Finland, you only need to visit some schools there and have a conversation with teachers and principals. Most of them have studied psychology, teaching methods, curriculum theories, assessment models, and classroom management researched and designed in the United States in their initial teacher education programs. Primary school teacher education syllabi in Finnish universities include scores of books and research articles written by U.S. scholars. Professional development and school improvement courses and programs often include visitors from the U.S. universities to teach and work with Finnish teachers and leaders. So common is the reliance on U.S. ideas in Finland that some have come to call the Finnish school system a large-scale laboratory of American education innovation.

“The relatively low overall rating of “innovation in education” in the United States raises an interesting question: Where are all those great ideas in the United States that other countries have been able to utilize to improve the performance of their school systems during the last century? It is interesting that, according to the OECD, the United States exhibits only modest innovation in its education system but, at the same time, it is the world leader in producing research, practical models and innovation to other countries.”

Read on to learn which five U.S. innovations he considers most important.

Erik Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann take issue with David Berliner and Gene Glass’s view about how high levels of child poverty in the U.S. affect our students’ performance on international assessments. In the following post, David Berliner responds to their critique.

Criticism via Sleight of Hand

David C. Berliner

​Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann (2014) (HPW) criticize Berliner, Glass, and Associates (2014). They label Berliner et al. “apologists,” and as misleaders of the American people. But their critique of our work seems bizarre. They never address the issue we deal with. We talk about the role of income and poverty in national and international assessments. They do not. Here is what they do:
​“To ascertain whether the challenges facing the United States are concentrated among the educationally disadvantaged, we identify for each state and country the proficiency rate of students from families with parents of high, moderate, and low levels of education.”
​Their analysis suggests that the children of America’s better educated families do not do as well as the children of better educated parents in other countries. If true, that would certainly not make us happy. But it is an irrelevant criticism of our analysis which convincingly demonstrates that poverty, along with its sequelae and correlations, is the greatest barrier to high achievement test scores for U.S. students on both domestic and international tests. Theirs is criticism via sleight of hand—we talk “level of poverty” and the outcomes of assessments, they talk “level of parental education” and the outcomes of assessment.

​Everyone knows that there is a relationship between educational level and income. But HPW blithely assume that the correlation between these two variables is quite high, when it is not. In fact the raw correlation between an individual’s educational level and that individual’s income actually is surprisingly low. In Arizona, for example, among employed individuals 25-55 years old, the correlations between wage income and education level are about .20 for workers at younger ages, the child-bearing ages. This correlation increases with age, but is still relatively weak, only about .40 (accounting for only 16% of variance) at the upper end of the age scale examined. One’s level of education and one’s level of income simply do not provide the same information, something often referred to as status inconsistency in the sociological literature.

To criticize us with their data set requires HPW to show two things. First, that the correlation between educational level of the parents of school children and income level of those parents is quite high in the U.S. Second, they must show that the relationships of parental education and parental income is about the same in all the OECD countries. They do not provide either of these two analyses. Nor could they, since it is highly unlikely that similar correlations are the case.

​Moreover, HPW do not acknowledge that much recent data suggest that education and income are not highly correlated in the U.S. For example, we know that in 1970, only 1 in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S. had a college degree. Today, 15 of 100 do. Highly educated taxi drivers are likely not to be able to afford to live in the areas where school poverty rates for families are below 10%. In those public schools, U.S. students are among the top scoring in the world. Even in the schools where about 10-25% of the families are in poverty, U.S. public school students compete remarkably well. The question is whether all those well-educated taxi drivers live in the areas served by those kinds of school? Probably not! Thus their children are unlikely to be getting as good an education as are the children whose parents, regardless of their educational level, can afford to live in those areas.

​Educational achievement on domestic and international tests is related to where you live and with whom you go to school. The children of these well-educated taxi drivers are more likely living in schools attended by people of more modest means, and this is possibly a reason for the findings of HPW. But it is not just taxi drivers with college degrees that have grown in numbers. In 1970, only about 2 percent of firefighters had a college degree. Now 15 percent do. Are they sending their kids to the schools attended by richer Americans, or to schools that serve the working and middle classes?

​About 1 in 4 bartenders has some sort of college degree. Are they high earners? If they have children, with whom would those children go to school? Our critics know as well as we do that who you go to school with is more important for your performance on tests than is your teacher, or any other influence. James Coleman made that clear fifty years ago and no credible refutation of this argument yet exists.

​So if many of America’s highly educated people are not earning high salaries, and thus not sending their children to the schools attended by the children of the advantaged, guess what? They will not do as well as might be expected of highly educated people—which is the point made by HPW. So not only does their data not refute our argument, if our hypothesis about education and income in contemporary U.S. is credible, their data actually confirm ours! Parental income and their child’s school achievement are strongly related, perhaps even more so than is parental education level and their children’s school achievement. In modern America, parental income rather than parental education more often determines who your children go to school with.

​Even more evidence suggests that the correlation between education and income (and therefore, the correlation between education and the neighborhood one lives in) is not as high as HPW suggest. More than a third of recent college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college degree. This underemployment or “mal-employment” rate appears to be over 36% for college-educated workers younger than 25. People don’t go to college to be a waiter or a bartender, but that is now a common outcome of their education. Nearly 8% of college graduates are working part-time, but would like full-time positions, and these highly educated people are not counted in the mal-employment rate of 36%.

​Not surprisingly, hospitality and retail are the most common occupations of the mal-employed. Of the nearly 3 million recent college grads, 152,000 are working in retail sales and nearly 100,000 work as waiters, bartenders or in other food service posts. Another 80,000 serve as clerks or customer service representatives, and 60,000 work in construction or manual labor.
​These are Americans of child-bearing age, and they will be sending their children to school now, or quite soon. Will they live in neighborhoods where less than 10% of the families served by the schools are in poverty? Or are these now and future parents more likely to live in neighborhoods where 25-50% of the families are in poverty? Those would be the neighborhoods and schools that serve the working and the middle classes, and the students in these schools score about the national or international average on most assessments. Not great, but certainly not bad. Furthermore, going to the suburbs is no escape: Recently, and for the first time, suburban poverty rates exceeded urban poverty rates. So these poor and modest-earning well-educated Americans, often with large debts from college, are likely to wait a long time before they can move to a neighborhood with a school that has less than 10% of its children living in poverty and thus a likely very high performing school.

​As is clear, HPW switched the argument from poverty to education. Perhaps children of America’s highly educated parents are not doing as well as children of the highly educated in other countries. We did not study that issue, but we have doubts about their findings, given what we have presented above about the relationship between education and income and where children are likely to be brought up in the contemporary U.S. More important is that their argument is irrelevant to our argument. We are quite sure we are correct in stating that youth poverty is our biggest education problem (see also, Biddle (2014)). What follows is why we hold this belief.
​On the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] tests, on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study [PIRLS] test, and on the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA] tests of reading, science and mathematics, public school students in five groups were assessed. One group attended schools where fewer than 10% of the families were in poverty, others attended schools where approximately 10-25% of the families were in poverty, or where 25-50%, 50-75% or over 75% of the families served by the school were in poverty. On each of these three international tests, U.S. public school students did terrific in the schools where poverty rates of families were under 10%, or even when poverty rates were between 10% and 25%. But we did not do well in schools where poverty rates were above 50%, and we did even worse on those tests in schools where poverty rates for families were in the 75-100% bracket.

Here is the recent TIMSS data for grades 4 and 8 by poverty of the families served by the school.

Untitled1

​ Although many nations in this analysis were not developed nations, the competition did include Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, and many OECD countries. The data are clear. First, to the amazement of everyone, the U.S. mean score in mathematics was above the international average, a finding conveniently underreported in the U.S. But averages always hide trends in data. When U.S. scores are broken down by the poverty of the families served, as in this graph, we see that the higher the percent of poverty among the families served by the schools, the lower the score in math. The science assessment showed the same trend.
​Less well known is that the two groups on the left constitute about 12 million students, and they handily beat the average score of Finland. Even the middle group beat Finland at both the 4th and 8th grade, and that means that about 50% of U.S. school children who are not greatly affected by poverty, about 25 million children, are doing as well as the nation whose scores other nations envy. But internationally high, or quite respectable test scores, are not the lot of those students attending schools with high rates of poverty. That is our simple point.
​Let’s switch to PIRLS.

Untitled2

 

​U.S. public school students, where poverty rates were low, the two bars on the left, outscored every other nation in the world, and there were more than 50 other countries and jurisdictions in this study. Underreported, once again, was that even our children in schools that serve the poorest families, the bar on the right, scored above the international average. The gap, however, between the children in schools that serve the wealthy and those that serve the poor is huge. That is our point. If we want better test scores in the U.S. we should probably stop blaming unions, tenure, the curriculum, teachers and administrators, and instead create programs to reduce poverty and the housing segregation that accompanies low earnings.
​Now let’s go to PISA, the test that HPW use to argue that we do not have it right. Here are math scores for the five groups we focus on.

Untitled3

 

​Even in math, often our weakest subject, those students in schools where poverty rarely is seen, the first bar in this graph, placed 6th in world—and they placed higher than Japan. The next group, schools with less than 25% of the children living in poverty families, placed 17th in world, well above most of the countries in OECD. But here is our national problem: The U.S. average score was low because the schools attended by children whose families are in poverty score poorly. Those in the schools most heavily affected by poverty may not have the mathematics skills needed to compete in the market. But other U.S. children certainly do, and they are predominantly those attending schools low in family poverty.

Here are science scores.

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​The first bar in this graph displays PISA science scores for students in schools with under 10% of their classmates living in families that experience poverty. They were beaten by only one country, Shanghai, which as we know is not a country but a city. And it is a city with the highest rate of college graduates in China. Apparently it also does not test the children of its illegal immigrants (those from rural areas living in Shanghai illegally: Their number may approach 200,000). The second bar, representing students in schools where under 25% of the students are from families in poverty tied for 8th in the world. Not too shabby a performance for about 12 million American public school students. But once again the trend is clear. Children in schools high in poverty do not do well. The difference between the schools serving the wealthy and the poor is over one standard deviation.

Here is the reading data. The trend is clear once again.

Untitled5

​Reading is an area of US strength, as PIRLS revealed. We see that again in PISA. US students in schools where under 10% of the families served are in poverty placed 2nd in the world. In the group where under 25% of the students were in poverty the students placed 6th in the world, tied with Finland. So, again, around 12 million of our student’s did great. And if we assess the performance of students represented by the third bar, the one showing students in schools with 25-50% of the families served in poverty, they also did well. They came in 10th. So approximately half of all US students, about 25 million of them, are doing pretty good, but that is not true for the other half of our school population—those attending schools where over 50% of the students come from families that are eligible for free and reduced lunch, our marker of family poverty.

​We conclude that in contemporary America parental income, not parental education buys neighborhood, and neighborhood plays a big role in determining the composition of the class ones child is in, the composition of the cohort at the grade level one’s child is in, and the characteristics of the community in which one’s child goes to school. If there is not a very strong correlation between parental education and parental income, or more to the point, between parental education and where you can afford to live, HPW are wrong in both their interpretation of their own data, and their criticism of us. But we would like to add one more criticism of HPW, namely, that reliance on PISA and other international assessments to draw conclusions about characteristics of the U.S. system of education is foolish, even though we challenged their interpretations of our work by using those same questionable tests. The remarkably insightful Chinese born scholar Yong Zhao has a book coming out soon (Zhou, 2014). In it he makes it quite clear that PISA, in particular, and for international tests in general, it is impossible to draw valid conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of national systems of education. Zhao (and many others) would caution, and we would agree, that HPW are on extremely shaky ground when they use PISA data to do so.

References

Berliner, D. C., Glass, G. V and Associates. (2014). Fifty myths and lies that
​threaten America’s public schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Biddle, B. J. (2014). The unacknowledged disaster: Youth poverty and
educational failure in America. Boston. MA: Sense Publishers.

Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., & Woessmann, L. (2014). Not just the
​problems of other people’s children: U.S. Student Performance in Global
Perspective. Harvard University, Program on Education Policy and Governance & Education Next, PEPG Report No. 14-01, May 2014.

Zhao, Y. (2014). Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon? Why China has the best
​(and worst) education system in the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-
​Bass.

Robert Berkman, who has been teaching math for thirty years, takes issue with the article by Elizabeth Green in the New York Times magazine called Why Americans Stink at Math. While he has great admiration for Green’s writing skills, he thinks she is an American who is not good at math.

He writes:

“The first place where Green goes wrong is when she cites “national test results” about mathematics achievement in the U.S.. First, I wonder which “test results” Green is referencing here (you have to be suspicious when, in the days of the omnipresent interweb, a link is not included to the data supporting this point.) It may be significant that 2/3 of all 4th and 8th graders are not “proficient” in math, but again, this is a national standard, not an international standard, so this only points to the fact that U.S. children are not achieving according to some standard that was created where, in some dark cave where Dick Cheney and his family reside?

“Green goes on to state that half the 4th and 8th graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress could not read a thermometer, or that 3/4 of the test takers could not translate a simple word problem into an algebraic expression. Note that this is the National Assessment of Educational Progress – it doesn’t say anything about whether U.S. children are better or worse than anybody else around the globe; for all we know, 7/8 of the children in Helsinki and 11/13 of the children in Ibaraki couldn’t successfully answer these questions either. Look, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, but even I know these numbers are insignificant without a context.”

If I may interject my view, NAEP proficient is a very high standard of academic proficiency, not a benchmark for what all students should know. Michelle Rhee constantly makes this mistake. It is like complaining that not all students are A students.

Berkman then chastises Green for comparing Massachusetts, a state, with Shanghai, a city (which excludes a significant number of students from the tests because their parents are migrants).

I confess I am tired of the constant barrage of articles and books about how terrible the U.S. is and how our public schools are the reason that we fail at this, that, or everything. I think this is a wonderful country, and I hope that one day soon we can take control back from the oligarchs that want to turn our children into standardized widgets (but not their own).

I like Elizabeth Green. I have known her for several years. I hope her next book will celebrate the success of American public schools in accepting all children and unleashing the genius of our best thinkers and creators, despite the contempt of the uber-rich and the war on the teaching profession. There is a reason that teachers say they work “in the trenches.” It’s time to celebrate their perseverance in the face of budget cuts and stupid federal policy.

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