About Joanne

Finland: Girls read well, but not boys

Finnish boys don’t read significantly better than U.S. boys, according to the international PISA exam.

For all those sick of hearing about how great Finnish schools are, here’s a fun fact from the new Brown Center Report: Finnish girls do well in reading, but boys do not. The gender gap is “an astonishing 62 points,” writes Tom Loveless. That’s twice the U.S. gap.

Finnish girls scored 556, and boys scored 494.  To put this gap in perspective, consider that Finland’s renowned superiority on PISA tests is completely dependent on Finnish girls.  Finland’s boys’ score of 494 is about the same as the international average of 496, and not much above the OECD average for males (478).  The reading performance of Finnish boys is not statistically significantly different from boys in the U.S. (482) or from the average U.S. student, both boys and girls (498).

. . . Consider that the 62 point gender gap in Finland is only 14 points smaller than the U.S. black-white gap (76 points) and 21 points larger than the white-Hispanic gap (41 points) on the same test.

Finland’s PISA success has been cited by advocates of various policies such as “teacher recruitment, amount of homework, curriculum standards, the role of play in children’s learning, school accountability, or high stakes assessments,” writes Loveless.

Advocates pound the table while arguing that these policies are obviously beneficial.  “Just look at Finland,” they say.  Have you ever read a warning that even if those policies contribute to Finland’s high PISA scores—which the advocates assume but serious policy scholars know to be unproven—the policies also may be having a negative effect on the 50 percent of Finland’s school population that happens to be male?

Usually, critics care whether a policy hurts some social groups, even it benefits others, he writes.

Where is the reading gender gap relatively small? Japan and South Korea.

Boys are catching up in reading

Girls do better than boys at reading, especially as they get older, but the gap is narrowing, writes Tom Loveless in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education.

It’s not just the U.S. “Across the globe, in countries with different educational systems, different popular cultures, different child rearing practices, and different conceptions of gender roles,” girls read better than boys, writes Loveless. 

However, gender gaps are closing, he writes. “On an international assessment of adults conducted in 2012, reading scores for men and women were statistically indistinguishable up to age 35.” After that age, men had higher scores in reading.

Still, women are much more likely than men to be avid readers.  Of those who said they read a book a week, 59 percent were women and 41 percent were men. By age 55, the ratio was 63 percent to 37 percent. “Two-thirds of respondents who said they never read books were men,” notes Loveless.

The report also found that fourth grade reading scores improved more in states with strong implementation of Common Core standards than in non-Core states. Last year’s report found an edge in eighth-grade math for strong Core states. However, the differences are quite small and may be due to other factors.

Is your child ready for first grade — in 1979?

A generation ago, children weren’t escorted everywhere by a parent.

A 1979 guide for parents — Is Your Child Ready for First Grade — shows how much things have changed, writes ChicagoNow blogger Christine Whitley.

In addition to the child’s age and teeth, the list asks:

3. Can you child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policeman, where he lives?
4. Can he draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?
5. Can he stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?
6. Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?
7. Can he tell left hand from right?
8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?
9. Can he be away from you all day without being upset?
10. Can he repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once, as “The boy ran all the way home from the store”?
11. Can he count eight to ten pennies correctly?
12. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

These days, most children learn to write letters and numbers and count pennies in preschool. Long before first grade, they’re used to being away from Mom. But they’ve never walked to a friend’s house or talked to a crossing guard.

Whitley has no idea if her six-year-old could walk four to eight blocks, she writes. “I’ve never let her even try! I’d probably be reported to the police if I did try!”

Slate’s KJ Antonia considers herself a “free-range” parent for letting a seven-year-old walk to a friend’s house unaccompanied and leaving a nine-year-old in charge of younger siblings. But she can’t imagine letting a pre-first grader walk “four to eight blocks” alone, even though Antonia thinks she did it herself at that age.

When did it become bizarre for kids to walk in their own neighborhoods? My daughter walked or bicycled to elementary school, the library and to friend’s houses in the late ’80s. Once she got lost for awhile. Another time, she was chased by an older, larger girl, the Catholic school’s official bully. She dealt with it.

Chicago schools debut Latino studies

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Chicago Public Schools will teach an interdisciplinary Latino and Latin American Studies curriculum to all K-10 students, Melissa Sanchez reports for Catalyst Chicago.

“Kindergartners can learn about the Mayan counting system while they’re learning numbers, and fifth-graders can learn about African influences on South American percussion during music class,” she writes.

“The history of Chicago cannot be written without celebrating the contributions of immigrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a district news release.

More than 45 percent of CPS students are Latino.

On The White Rhino, a Chicago English teacher named Ray Salazar called the curriculum well-intentioned but over-simplified.

Chicago already is piloting an African and African American studies curriculum that was released last year.

Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

Opting out gets press — or is it hype?

Grassroots resistance to Common Core tests — the  “opt out” movement — is getting more press than it deserves, argues Alexander Russo in Columbia Journalism Review.

. . . much of the media’s coverage of this spring’s Common Core testing rollout has been guilty of over-emphasizing the extent of the conflict, speculating dire consequences based on little information, and over-relying on anecdotes and activists’ claims rather than digging for a broader sampling of verified numbers. The real story—that the rollout of these new, more challenging tests is proceeding surprisingly well—could be getting lost.

He hits John Merrow’s PBS NewsHour report on resistance to Core-aligned exams in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Merrow responds here.

A look at Eureka’s Core math exercises

In Old math vs. Common Core math: See how it’s done, the Times-Picayune shows how Louisiana teachers are using Eureka math to teach to Common Core standards.

Eureka includes problem-solving “sprints” (students solve as many math problems as possible within a certain time) and fluency-building activities where they clap their hands and stomp their feet to count by fives, 10s, etc.

Will new tests live up to the hype?

Muslim Alkurdi, 18, of Albuquerque High School, joins hundreds of classmates in Albuquerque, N.M, Monday, March 2, 2015, as students staged a walkout to protest a new standardized test they say isn't an accurate measurement of their education. Students frustrated over the new exam walked out of schools across the state Monday in protest as the new exam was being given. The backlash came as millions of U.S. students start taking more rigorous exams aligned with Common Core standards.

Muslim Alkurdi, 18, of Albuquerque High School, joins hundreds of classmates, as students staged a walkout to protest a new exams.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promised teachers that Common Core-aligned Assessments 2.0 would be the tests they had “longed for.”

Millions of students are taking those new tests this spring, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report. Enthusiasm for the new tests has waned.

The federal government put $360 million into the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which developed Core-aligned tests.

This spring, of the original 26 states that signed up for PARCC, just 11 plus Washington, D.C. are giving the test. Of the original 31 signed up for Smarter Balanced, only 18 are still on board. (In the early years, some states were members of both coalitions.) Several of the states will give the PARCC or Smarter Balanced test for one year only, before switching to their own state-based exams next year. Another Common Core exam, known as Aspire, produced by ACT, has stolen away some states from the federally sponsored groups; this spring students in South Carolina and Alabama will take that test.

On the old state tests, only 2 percent of math questions and 21 percent of English questions assessed “higher-order skills,” such as abstract thinking and the ability to draw inferences, concluded a 2012 RAND study of 17 state tests.

Two-thirds of PARCC and SBAC questions call for higher-order skills, according to a 2013 analysis by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing.

“In the old tests a student would just get a vocabulary word by itself and would be asked to find a synonym,” said Andrew Latham, director of Assessment & Standards Development Services at WestEd, a nonprofit that worked with Smarter Balanced and PARCC on the new tests. “Now you will get that word in a sentence. Students will have to read the sentence and be able to find the right answers through context clues.”

The new tests require students to answer open-ended questions, which takes more time.  Smarter Balanced will take eight and a half hours, while some PARCC tests will take over ten hours.

Duncan had promised teachers would get quick feedback from the new tests, but it takes time to grade students’ writing. The only way to get fast feedback is to use robo-graders instead of humans.

What if Core scores go down and stay down?

Test scores will drop in Common Core states this year, writes Eduwonk. It’s a harder and unfamiliar test. Reasonable people get that.

The risk for Common Core will come in a few years, if scores remain low, he writes.

A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without really doing the instructional shifts or big changes in classroom practice to up the bar for teaching and learning.

. . . in a few years when more ambitious standards collide with inadequate capacity and classroom practice and scores haven’t, overall, moved upwards a lot is when the political bill could come due. Common Core will be declared another “failed” reform idea and something else will come along.  In fact, what Common Core will have in common with a lot of prior reform efforts is a diluted implementation, inadequate support, and half-measures.

Something else is likely to be “a lot more choice,” predicts Eduwonk.

From Epictetus to road-crossing chickens

Philosophy can engage, inspire and deepen the thinking of high school students, writes Diana Senechal in American Educator. She teaches Philosophy for Thinking at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering, a selective New York City public middle/high school that draws an ethnically diverse group of students. (Two-thirds are Latino or African-American; 56 percent qualify for a free or subsidized lunch.)

Her students have published the second issue of their erudite and humorous philosophy journal, Contrariwise, which can be ordered here. 

Students write about Epictetus, the Book of Job, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Pascal, Gogol, virtue, kindness, humor, utopia, dystopia, the DMV — and more.

Peerayos Pongsachai uses math and philosophy to analyze the question: Why did the chicken cross the road?

The journal includes national and international contest winners. Emma Eder (Georgetown Visitation Prep, Washington, D.C.) won first place for The Very Real Problem of Irrationality in the math/philosophy category. Her classmate Julia Sloniewsky took on the challenge of writing as a knight or samurai during the all of feudalism. She won for Letter in the Desk of Hiraku Kikkawa.

The international contest asked students to imagine their favorite dish is “its own nation.”

Who/what is its leader? Its citizens? What does each ingredient do for a living? . . . Write about a philosophical problem this nation experiences — anything from existential angst due to being eaten, to “okra should never have been chosen as secreatry of state.”

Plate’s Republic by Grace Eder, also a Georgetown student, won first place. Second and third place winners came from Italy, China, Turkey, Britain and the U.S.