Why do Asian students rank high?

Asian students outscore Americans on international exams — and it matters, says Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, in a New York Times interview. He’s now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

We live in a world in which our children aren’t competing for jobs against people in the next town — they’re competing for jobs against people in other countries. It’s critical that we understand how our students compare to those students. . . . We now live in an information economy in which what matters are brains and knowledge. So those tests are critically important.

Asian countries ace the exams because they “start earlier,” Levine says. “They work longer. They work better.”

Kids are capable of learning about mathematics much earlier than we thought. Yes, we can begin earlier, but we also need to spend more time on those subjects, and make them more comprehensible to students. We don’t do well in that. We have much to learn from those countries about when to teach math and science, how long to teach it, and the best ways to teach it.

Finland, which also ranks high, limits the number of people who can enter teaching programs, says Levine. Only the top candidates are accepted. The U.S. sets low requirements, then turns out too many elementary school teachers and too few STEM teachers.

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  1. Crimson Wife says:

    Asian countries give exams that determine which type of secondary school students will attend. They don’t pretend to do “college prep for all” with a watered-down curriculum but rather give a highly rigorous university prep education to only the highest-scoring students.

    There’s not the political will in this country to adopt the Asian model. Just look at all the controversy over the handful of public exam schools that do exist.

    • Exactly. Almost every country around the world tracks their students, and does so in a way that would cause most of those complaining about the American education system to literally faint.

  2. In addition, parents of asian kids generally tend to value education, unlike many parents in the U.S. so they have some pressure to do well in school (the kids that is) 🙂

  3. Re the tracking comments, I wonder. TIMMS exam is Grade 4 and 8. The success differential is for the average kid in the nation (setting aside the Shanghai hijinx), less that their top kids outperform our top kids. And FWIW, I believe most USA high schools are tracked in math.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      But the Asian families are aware that their child needs to be among the top scorers in order to get into a university prep secondary school. So they put tremendous effort into making sure their child is as well-prepared as possible for the entrance exam the way many American parents put tremendous effort into making sure their child is as well-prepared as possible for the high school varsity team tryouts.

      As far as tracking in the U.S.A. goes, there may be honors classes offered but admission into them is not purely a factor of test scores. Plus students who are in the regular “college prep” track (which has become very much dumbed-down in the name of “college for all”) can still get accepted to all but the most selective colleges.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    In reading from reviews of Amanda Ripley’s book, “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way” it is remarkable that the reviewers have noticed that the schools in South Korea are not very efficient but that the students just spend all of their time studying to include cram schools in the evening.

    There is no way that the U.S. is going to copy the educational model of East Asians.

    • True. Any serious discussion of “what they do differently” should include the cram schools (hagwon, juku, etc.)

  5. Asian schools value acheivement and mastery. US schools value full inclusion of everyone but provide no appropriate work to highly capable students until honors starts (too late for many). Some US parents provide the work via the tutor or Sylvan et al. The work ethic difference is obvious when your child is involved in private groups where there are many Asians.

    And I’ll disagree about ‘too few STEM teachers’. We have them. Their high school classes (AP Comp Sci, AP Physics, AP Chem, etc) were cancelled when full inclusion began. My district’s ex-STEM teachers all teach at the CC, but the school won’t allow them to teach a DE section. Capable students are told to grad early…some full inclusion there….distinctly classist overtone by the way as it is assumed that capable students bought their education outside the district rather than read or think or participate in the family business.