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.

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.

India: Bride dumps groom who can’t add

From India: A bride walked out of her wedding ceremony when her groom failed to solve a simple addition problem, reports the Deccan Chronicle.

The question she asked: How much is 15+6?

His reply: 17.

“The groom’s family kept us in the dark about his poor education,” said Mohar Singh, the bride’s father. “Even a first grader can answer this.”

After police mediation, both families returned the gifts and jewelry that had been exchanged before the wedding, said a police officer.

How to parent like a German


Photo by Metro Centric

Parenting like a German means giving kids more freedom, Sara Zaske writes in Time.

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Despite the stereotypes, Germans are mellow parents, she writes. “Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone.” It’s not called “free-range parenting.” It’s normal.

Kindergarten is considered a time for play and social learning. Children are learn to read in first grade, but “academics aren’t pushed very hard.”  A half day of instruction includes two outdoor recesses.

German children play outside every day. If it’s cold, they bundle up.

Starting first grade is marked by a big party called Einschulung.

 In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

There’s another big party when a child turns 14.

U.S. millennials: Schooled but not skilled

America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future is depressing and alarming, writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio.

Many Americans 16 to 34 years old “lack the skills required for higher-level employment and meaningful engagement in our democracy,” concludes the Educational Testing Service (ETS) report. 

Young Americans have more years of schooling than any previous generation, writes Irwin S. Kirch, director of the ETS’s Center for Global Assessment, in the preface. The U.S. has the highest proportion of millennials who are college graduates of the 22 countries studied.

Yet, the educated and the uneducated “demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology rich environments compared to their international peers,” Kirch writes.

U.S. millennials outscore only their peers in Italy and Spain in literacy. They rank last in numeracy.

It’s not that the U.S. has more low-income or immigrant students, notes Pondiscio. When our wealthiest students are compared to their wealthiest, our best-educated, our native-born, our immigrants, the U.S. falls short.

One of the comforting lies we have told ourselves in recent years is that, while we might have problems, our top performers are still the equal of the best in the world. Alas, the score for U.S. millennials at our ninetieth percentile was statistically higher than the best in just a single country: Spain.

These are “the people who will work, earn, support families, create jobs, make policy, take leadership positions, and be entrusted generally with protecting, defending, and continuing our democracy,” Pondiscio concludes.

As commencement speakers put it, they’re the hope of the future. A slim hope.

Kids don’t want to grow up

Most of Michael Godsey’s high school students don’t want to prepare for college or careers, he writes in The Atlantic. Adolescence is fun. Adult life holds little appeal.

After years of teaching AP English, Godsey now teaches average students. They enjoy reading books written for or about teens, but appear “utterly bored” when counselors talk to them about “college pathways.” They’re not interested in exploring careers either.  They want to stay kids as long as they can. 

Technology lessons don’t appeal. His school’s “Bring Your Own Device Day” was a flop. Only five of his 150 students brought a device they wouldn’t otherwise have taken to school.

 One of the teens explained to me, “We like using our phones and laptops for games and talking to each other, but we don’t really want use them for school.”  

. . . A recent nationwide survey by NuVoodoo shows that while most people, regardless of age, use Facebook, teens say Instagram—which is used by just 16 percent of middle-aged adults—is their “most important” social network. My students for their part prefer to communicate through Snapchat, a photo-messaging application in which the messages “disappear” within ten seconds of being viewed. According to researchers at the University of Washington, most Snapchat users—59 percent—primarily rely on the app to share funny content like “photos of stupid faces.” Not surprisingly, Snapchat is used by just 4 percent of middle-aged adults.

Unless we can find a way to “make adulthood more appealing or adolescence less luxurious,” college and career readiness programs won’t reach their full potential, Godsey writes. That sounds like  job for parents.

Average (non-AP-taking) high school students typically enroll in a community college or not-very-selective four-year institution. Weak on academic skills and motivation, a majority will quit before earning a degree. Some will complete a vocational certificate in a technical or medical field and get a decent job. Many will find adult life just as difficult and unfulfilling as they’d imagined as teenagers.

U.S. “millennials” (16- to 34-year-olds) do poorly in literacy, numeracy and problem solving compared to young adults in other developed countries, according to a new ETS analysis.

On the move in Finland

More Recess

Worried about passive, phone-tapping kids, Finnish schools are trying to get students moving, writes Tim Walker in The Atlantic. An American, Walker lives in Helsinki and teaches in a bilingual school.

Kids in Finland have short school days and frequent 15-minute breaks — typically there’s one after each 45-minute lesson. And even though the breaks keep them more focused in the classroom, they don’t necessarily keep them more active at school.

Under the “On the Move” initiative, his school has turned sixth graders into “recess activators” for first and graders. Older kids lead the younger ones in games, such as Banana Tag.

In the fall, a new schedule will combine short recesses into at least one 30-minute break. Students in grades seven through nine will choose activities, such as yogalates, floor hockey, or gymnastics.

Teachers also are looking for “strategies for getting students to be more active during lessons,” writes Walker. These include “energizers” (short breaks from sitting), allowing kids to complete work while standing or while sitting on large bouncy balls.

He’s replaced oral presentations, which tend to be dull and time consuming, with the “gallery walk.”

Students fasten their presentations to the walls of the classroom or hallway as if they were exhibiting their work in an art gallery. Each display is numbered and the children rotate from exhibit to exhibit systematically, spending a minute or two carefully studying each one. To make this experience more meaningful, students provide written-feedback to each other as they’re visiting each display. Before they start the active gallery walk, I hand out sticky notes in two different colors. On one color, my sixth graders write questions about the work for the presenter to consider and on the other, they jot down positive observations.

On the Finnish Report Card 2014 on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Finnish kids received a “D” for physical activity levels, reports Walker, U.S. children earned a D- on the 2014 United States Report Card.

U.S. teachers teach more, but not much more


U.S. teachers spend more time in front of their classes than teachers in other developed countries, but not much more, concludes a new Columbia study,  The Mismeasure of Teaching Time.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated U.S. teachers spend 50 to 73 percent more time instructing classes, notes Education Week. The new study says that’s way off.

• Primary school teachers in grades K-6 spend 12 percent, not 50 percent, more time leading class each year than the average in the 34 OECD member countries.

• Teachers in grades 7-9 teach 14 percent, not 65 percent, longer than their global peers.

• Upper-secondary teachers spend 11 percent, not 73 percent, longer on instructional time.

The report recommends “reducing instructional time for students by following the Finnish model,” which gives students 15-minute breaks between lessons for fresh air, play and relaxation.

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think, writes Jill Barshay on the Hechinger Report.

A 2010 McKinsey report spotlighted a “talent gap” in teaching. Almost half of new teachers come from the bottom third of SAT takers, said the report. By contrast, the “world’s top performing school systems draw teachers from the best and brightest.”

But new research argues that quality never dropped that low and is rebounding.  A recently published “study of new teachers in New York state . . . found that at the worst point — in 1999 — almost 30 percent of new teachers came from the bottom third, as measured by SAT scores,” and 30 percent came from the top third, writes Barshay. Ten years later, more than 40 percent of new teachers scored in the top third and fewer than 20 percent in the bottom third.

2013 University of Washington study also found rising test scores for new teachers.

A Stanford study, not yet published, estimates the average SAT/ACT scores of a new teacher declined to the 42nd percentile in 2000 and rose to the 48th percentile by 2008.

Math scores rose strongly, while verbal scores increased slightly.

Back in 1993, the typical hire at a private elementary school had SAT scores that were 4 points higher than her or his public school counterpart. By 2008, they were 5 percentage points lower. . . . Private high school teachers continue to have higher SAT scores than public high school teachers.

It’s not clear why public schools have been able to hire teachers with stronger academic records.

Education Realist critiques a lack of quality in teacher quality reports.