Singapore up, Finland down

Singapore’s students are the best in the world in math, science and reading, proclaims Quartz, which has been crunching the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) numbers. “Finland has fallen from its perch (though it remains a very high performer).

Singapore students earn very high scores on international tests in math, science and reading.

Singapore students earn very high scores on international tests in math, science and reading.

You can compare U.S. results to other countries here.

Massachusetts and North Carolina students were tested separately.

In science, Massachusetts teens scored far above the U.S. and international average in science, and also were above average in reading and math.

The U.S. isn’t going to turn into Singapore, but perhaps more states could emulate Massachusetts.

Canada also does well on PISA, while spending less on education than the U.S.

U.S. math scores are falling

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-17-am2+2=??? Don’t ask an American 15-year-old. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in math compared to 35 industrialized nations, according to the latest PISA results.

U.S. scores fell in math and remained about the same in reading and science, near the international average.

PISA is given to 15-year-olds in 72 countries.

Higher performing nations teach fewer math topics in greater depth, Andreas Schleicher, who runs the test, told journalists. Students master a topic and then move on, rather than cycling back to the same concept each year, he said.

PISA results matter, writes Robert Rothman. “PISA is designed to measure how well students can apply what they have learned to real-world problems.” In a follow-up study, Canadian students’ results correlated with their success in college and the job market.

The usual excuses don’t apply, he argues. U.S. students aren’t more likely to live in poverty than children in other OECD countries. U.S. 15-year-olds are slightly less likely to be enrolled in school.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-39-amHong Kong has lots of poverty — and high scores for all students. Estonia also is an equity champion.

The U.S. improved on measures of equity, notes Amanda Ripley in the New York Times. “In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world.”

PISA scores don’t correlate with education spending, Ripley observes. The U.S. spends more than most OECD countries for average or below-average performance. Malta spends about the same — and outperforms the U.S.

Luxembourg is the biggest spender, with mediocre results, followed by Switzerland, which has high scores. Taiwan, which spends less than average, and Singapore, which spends more, have similar, very high math scores.

Ripley summarizes what matters:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

“I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” Schleicher said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

England goes charter

England’s Conservative government wants to turn all 20,000 public schools into academies, their equivalent of charter schools, by 2022, write Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske of Brookings. However, a proposal to force schools to become academies has been dropped.

Two-thirds of English secondary schools are independently run academies.

Two-thirds of publicly funded secondary schools in England are independently run academies.

Two-thirds of England’s publicly funded secondary schools are academies.

The plan laid out in Educational Excellence Everywhere calls for academies to receive funding directly from the national Department for Education, “sharply reducing the role of the local authorities.”

“Our ambition remains that all schools should benefit from the freedom and autonomy that academy status brings,” said Education Secretary Justine Greening in a Parliamentary statement. “Our focus, however, is on building capacity in the system and encouraging schools to convert voluntarily.”

The Conservatives also want to let more schools choose their students.

A new Brown Center Policy Brief describes five lessons U.S. charters can learn from England.

U.S. kids lag Asians in math, science


U.S. fourth-graders aren’t improving in math and science, according to the new Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report. Eighth-graders showed some improvement, but aren’t catching up with high flyers in Singapore, Korea, Japan and elsewhere in Asia. reports Emma Brown in the Washington Post.

“In Singapore, for example, 50 percent of students scored high enough to be considered advanced in math, compared with just 14 percent of U.S. students who reached that benchmark,” she writes.

On TIMSS Advanced, which looks at 12th graders who take advanced physics and math, males scored significantly higher than female students, notes Brown. “Among fourth- and eighth-grade students, the gender gap has narrowed or closed in math and science.”

Sixty countries participate in TIMSS.

Among countries with slipping scores are Finland — yes, Finland! — Germany and the Netherlands, notes Quartz.

U.S. eighth-graders are improving in geometry and algebra, but doing worse in “problems of data and chance,” reports Sarah D. Sparks in Ed Week. “Similarly, U.S. students improved significantly in their performance on life science and biology topics, but their scores in physics and earth sciences stagnated.”

Overall, TIMSS have increased the depth and rigor of their math and science curricula over time, according to Ina V.S. Mullis, co-executive director of IEA’s TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center. “When we started [conducting TIMSS] in 1995, our math was all content—algebra, geometry—and in science, chemistry, physics, but now we also include cognitive demands, thinking skills.”

Learning to fall down


Japanese children ride unicycles without helmets or kneepads.  Photo: Ko Sasaki/New York Times

Japanese elementary schools supply “unicycles, bamboo stilts, hula hoops and other equipment that promotes balance and core strength,” reports the New York Times. Kids play, fall and get back up without protective gear or adult supervision.

During a recent morning recess at Kyuden Elementary School in the Setagaya ward of Tokyo, children raced to a rack of more than 80 unicycles with brightly colored wheels and began riding around the sand and gravel playground.

Some children were just learning, clinging to monkey bars or the shoulders of friends. Others sped fluidly across the playground for more than 20 yards at a time. Pairs of girls twirled around, arm in arm and perfectly balanced. Several girls rode unicycles close to four and a half feet tall.

Children learn on their own or to teach one another to ride unicycles, says the vice principal.

Riding unicycles is part of a culture that urges elementary school-age children to do things on their own, including taking the subway or walking around city neighborhoods.

“I see kids being challenged and encouraged to do things that I have never seen kids encouraged to do in the U.S.,” said Matthew Thibeault, an American who teaches at a middle school affiliated with Toyama University on the west coast of Japan, “and a lot of equipment that would be considered risky.”

Via Ann Althouse who quotes Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid— about being an American kid the 1950s:

In such a world, injuries and other physical setbacks were actually welcomed. If you got a splinter you could pass an afternoon, and attract a small devoted audience, seeing how far you could insert a needle under your skin—how close you could get to actual surgery. If you got sunburned you looked forward to the moment when you could peel off a sheet of translucent epidermis that was essentially the size of your body. Scabs in Kid World were cultivated the way older people cultivate orchids. I had knee scabs that I kept for up to four years, that were an inch and three-quarters thick and into which you could press thumbtacks without rousing my attention.

In Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, a 1930 book set in England’s Lake District, children ranging in age from seven to (maybe) 11 or 12 want to sail to an island and camp out for several weeks. Their father, a Naval or Merchant Marine officer, telegraphs his permission: “Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won’t drown.”

How to do vocational ed right

Finland does vocational education right, writes Elizabeth A. Radday in Education Week. Ninth graders choose an academic or vocational high school: Nearly half choose the vocational path. It’s not considered the second-class track, writes Radday, who spent six months in Finland on a Fulbright.

Students at the Lahti circus school.

Students work on a certificate in “circus arts” at a school in Lahti, Finland.

Vocational schools offer certificates in a wide range of fields from plumbing and electricity to “tourism, business and entrepreneurship, health services, natural resources, technology, social services, and catering,” Radday writes. She visited a school where students learn to be circus performers.

Each year, vocational students spend at least six to eight weeks as apprentices. Employers are willing to provide training and evaluation.

After earning a certificate, typically at age 19, young people can find a job, train for a higher-level certificate or pursue a degree at a university of applied sciences. Those who wish can take the admissions exam for entry to a traditional university.

“College for all” has been the U.S. mantra for a long time now. Yet only a minority will complete a college degree. Few high schools offer high-quality vocational education and even fewer link students to apprenticeships.

The Obama administration tried to promote partnerships between employers, high schools and community colleges. I hope Trump’s education people can go farther to strengthen career-tech education and end the college (or nothing)-for-all philosophy.

Apprenticeships are expensive for employers — but worth it, reports New America’s Michael Prebil. A new federal report, The Benefits and Costs of Apprenticeship: A Business Perspective, discusses 13 case studies.

PISA: Attitude doesn’t predict achievement

Image result for iceland children enthusiasticChildren in Iceland run to celebrate World Harmony Day.

Around the world, students who like school don’t necessarily do better in reading and math, according to a new PISA study.

Sixty-four countries participated in the 2012 PISA survey. No direct relationship was found between attitude and achievement in all but Qatar, Iceland and Australia.

Controlling for students’ ability, family socioeconomic status and gender made little difference, though attitude did correlate with achievement for well-to-do students.

Does self-efficacy really matter? asks Peter DeWitt. Yes, it does, he concludes.

Self-efficacy is the belief that what I do can make a difference. Without it why bother?

Russia trains patriotic ‘Young Army’

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is promoting “military-patriotic education” training for teens, reports Simon Shuster in Time.

At a school outside Moscow, students as young as 11 learn to assemble and load Kalashnikov assault rifles.

 . . . Putin ordered the creation last fall of a nationwide “Russian students’ movement,” whose aim is to “help form the characters” of young people “based on the system of values that is intrinsic to Russian society.”

The Russian Defense Ministry has created the “Young Army” to provide training in military tactics and history.

Parents spend more time with kids

Michaela Fox at home in Box Hill, Melbourne, with daughters Amber, Holly ... ‘They are just weaving their own na...

Michaela Fox with her daughters in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: David Geraghty/News Limited

Parents are spending a lot more time with their children, according to a study that compares parenting from 1965 to 2012. In 10 of 11 Western nations (France is the outlier), mothers and fathers have increased their parenting time significantly.

“When a parent spends more time with a child, it has been shown to improve his or her language skills, brain development, social behavior, and more,” writes Megan Scudellari in the Boston Globe.

In 1965, mothers spent an average of 54 minutes per day on activities with their children: feeding them, reading to them, putting them to bed. Moms in 2012, however, averaged almost twice that, spending 104 minutes per day with their offspring. Fathers had an even more dramatic increase: Their time with kiddos nearly quadrupled, from a daily average of just 16 minutes in 1965 to 59 minutes in 2012.

Educated parents were more involved with their children, the study found.

College-educated moms averaged 123 minutes daily on child care, compared with 94 minutes spent by less educated mothers. Fathers with a college degree spent about 74 minutes a day with their kids, while less educated dads averaged 50 minutes.

The “intensive parenting” trend is spreading from well-educated to less-educated parents, said co-author Judith Treas, a UC-Irvine sociology professor. “The time parents spend with children is regarded as critical for positive cognitive, behavioral and academic outcomes.”

Intensive parenting can be exhausting, warns Scary Mommy.

French ask: Can Joan of Arc unite us? 

In the 15th century, Joan of Arc united the French against the English invaders. Now, the French are debating whether teaching about Joan of Arc and other historical figures will create a sense of national identity, reports the New York Times. 

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

 “In France, where the state sets school programs nationwide, the country’s understanding of its past — and how it uses education to shape young citizens — has become a hot-button issue,” reports the Times.

Some want schools to teach a “national narrative.”

“Once you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls,” said former president Nicolas Sarkozy, a candidate in the right-wing party primaries.

Socialist education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem believes the curriculum “should reflect changes in society.”

After last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the Education Ministry added more hours dedicated to teaching about secularism and the republican values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

However, there’s no consensus on teaching citizenship, said Patricia Legris, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Rennes. “Should it be a national citizen? Or a European citizen? A world citizen?”

Americans wouldn’t have much trouble with that question. But getting from e pluribus to unum isn’t easy.