It’s math anxiety, not gender inequality

Math anxiety, not gender bias, explains why girls are less likely to pursue education and careers in STEM fields, according to a new study of student performance by 15-year-olds in more than 60 countries.

In less-developed countries, boys and girls fear math, the study found. The anxiety gap appears in developed countries with more gender equality, writes Rebecca Klein in the Huffington Post

Many believe that “as society became more gender equal, with more women in politics … and [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields and so forth, this would provide more role models, and therefore the gender differences in math anxiety and math performance would disappear,” David Geary, a University of Missouri psychology professor told Klein. “We found the opposite.”

The study found no link between the proportion of women working in STEM fields and teenage girls’ math anxiety.

Even when researchers control for performance, girls “still have more math anxiety than they should,” he said.

To help the poor, give them money

To prepare children from low-income families for school success, U.S. policy and funding has focused on Head Start and universal pre-kindergarten, writes Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst. But research shows that giving more money to low-income parents is more cost effective, he writes.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, which raises the income of  low-income working parents, is more effective than providing free pre-K for four-year-olds, he writes. The chart also shows the modest effects of class-size reduction and Head Start.

Northern European countries focus on supporting family incomes rather than providing preschool or pre-K, writes Whitehurst. “A policy midpoint” could be giving families more money, but limiting it to expenditures on their young children. He envisions something like food stamps.

In Finland, working parents of young children can choose from a variety of child-care providers or “opt to receive a financial subsidy that allows them to reduce their work hours in order to be home more with their child,” he writes. “They can also take unpaid leave.” The rate of enrollment in child-care centers is very low for children under four.

A first-rate teacher for every classroom

To “get a first-rate teacher in front of every student,” schools need to retain teachers long enough to build expertise, writes Marc Tucker on his Top Performers blog.

Attrition is higher in the U.S. than in top-performing countries, writes Tucker. Teachers who quit “typically complain that they were not well prepared for the realities of teaching and had little help from anyone else once they started teaching.”

“Most teachers have a steep learning curve during their first three years in teaching, but that curve typically flattens out after three years,” Tucker writes. Novices are motivated to learn how to do the job to survive — but, after that, “all teachers have pretty much the same job, at the same pay, with the same status, for the rest of their working lives.”

A new, very large international study by Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond looks at how schools support high-quality teachers and teaching in Australia, Singapore, Shanghai and Canada, he writes.

These high-performing countries work hard to hire the best possible teachers, then focus on building their expertise and providing “a meaningful career progression that reinforces and rewards” expertise, Tucker writes.

In these countries, novice teachers are less likely to quit and teacher effectiveness doesn’t plateau after three years. They keep getting better.

Palestinian honoree teaches through play

A Palestinian teacher’s play-based methods have won her a $1 million global education prize, reports Diaa Hadid in the New York Times.  The Varkey Foundation chose Hanan Hroub for developing educational games for children traumatized by violence.

When a reporter visited her West Bank classroom, “second-grade students were not focusing on their assigned task of scrawling math problems on balloons,” writes Hadid. “They were popping those balloons.”

The teacher put four marks underneath a frowning yellow face.

“No, Miss! No! We will concentrate, we promise!” piped up a girl named Shurouq. Ms. Hroub and her charges discussed why they felt distracted, and promised to do better.

Not all is fun and games, reports Hadid. “Some Israelis have denounced her as part of a Palestinian education system they see as inciting violence, and noted with dismay that her husband assisted in the killing of six Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1980.”

Teaching ‘manhood’ at school


Against a backdrop of role models, Ernest Jenkins III teaches a class at Oakland High School called “Mastering Our Cultural Identity: African American Male Image.” Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Hoping to lift achievement for black male students, Oakland (California) schools have hired black male teachers to teach African-American history and culture in what’s called the Manhood Development Project, reports Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times.

“The No. 1 strategy to reduce discipline issues is engaged instruction,”  says Christopher P. Chatmon, who runs the district’s Office of African American Male Achievement.

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few students in his Manhood Development class with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Rahsaan Smith, 13, is one of the few Manhood Development students growing up with a father and mother at home. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Many students have grown up without a father or male role model. Students form strong relationships with teachers and the program also brings in black male professionals and college advisers.

Chatmon’s office compiles an honor roll of black students with a 3.0 average or better. Three years ago, only 16 percent were male. That’s risen to 25 percent.

China is looking for male teachers to teach manhood, reports Javier C. Hernnandez, also in the New York Times.

Lin Wei, 27, a male sixth-grade teacher in Fuzhou, tells stories about manly warlords and soldiers. “Men have special duties,” he said. “They have to be brave, protect women and take responsibility for wrongdoing.”

Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom.

In Zhengzhou, a city on the Yellow River, schools have asked boys to sign pledges to act like “real men.” In Shanghai, principals are trying boys-only classes with courses like martial arts, computer repair and physics.

The motto of West Point Boys, an all-male summer camp in Hangzhou, in eastern China, is: “We bring out the men in boys.”

When Mark Judge was hired as the only male teacher at a Catholic K-8 school, the boys were ecstatic, he writes on Acculturated.

. . . the boys literally formed a circle around me and started jumping up and down. There were requests to play football, questions about cars, inquiries into my favorite baseball player, light punches (from them) on my shoulder.

The U.S. should “encourage more men to become the kind of teachers our boys need,” he concludes.

Overtested? Not really

“The U.S. is not a country of heavy testing,” says Andreas Schleicher, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) education director.

Andreas Schleicher

Andreas Schleicher

Analyzing PISA survey data from more than 70 countries, Schleicher concludes that the U.S. ranks “just below average” in the frequency of standardized tests, writes Jill Barshay in the Hechinger Report.

High-performing Asian countries, the Netherlands and Belgium test often, he said. “More than a third of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands said they took a standardized test at least once a month,” reports Barshay. “In Israel, more than a fifth said they took a monthly standardized test.”

Only 2 percent of U.S. students take standardized tests every month, while the OECD average is 8 percent.

Ninety-seven percent of U.S. 15-year-olds said they took a standardized test once or twice a year. That’s “about the same share as in Finland,” writes Barshay.

Perhaps Finnish schools spend less time on test prep.

Linking school to careers

Career readiness is an afterthought for most U.S. high schools, concludes Jobs for the Future in a new report. However, High Tech High Schools, Cristo Rey schools, Big Picture Schools, P-TECH models, and early college schools provide “applied learning related to the labor market.”

Cristo Rey students share a single full-time job (in a law firm, bank, hospital, or other setting), with each student working one day a week to pay school tuition.

At Worcester Tech, students run a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

At Worcester Tech in Massachusetts, students work in a veterinary clinic in partnership with Tufts.

Big Picture students make personalized learning plans that take them out to work several days a week with mentors, and a goal of defining their passions and finding work that is satisfying.

Massachusetts vocational schools typically host companies on site and provide the clinical training required for industry certifications. Worcester Tech, for example, hosts Tufts at Tech, a veterinary clinic serving the community.

The Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) in Clovis, California, provides half-day programs for 11th and 12 graders in four career clusters: professional sciences, engineering, advanced communications, and global economics.

. . . students complete industry-based projects and receive academic credit for advanced English, science, math, and technology. Students do everything from testing water in the High Sierra, to making industry-standard films, to trying out aviation careers by actually flying planes. Teaching teams include business and science partners, and many teachers have extensive professional experience.

Only 24 percent of U.S. teens have jobs, down from 44 percent in 2000. Teens from well-to-do families are the most likely to have jobs, while few lower-income teens are in the workforce.

In Switzerland, students apply for internships at the end of ninth grade.

For the next three or four years, your week consists of three days at work, two days at school, and an occasional stint in an intercompany training organization (like the Centre for Young Professionals, in Zurich, Switzerland). Your company pays you between $600 and $800 a month to start, moving up to $1,000 or $1,200 or more by the end of your third year.

Seventy percent of young people use this system, completing “the equivalent of high school (and a year or so of community college).”  Swiss youth unemployment is 3 percent.

Linked Learning integrates career tech education with academics.

Earning a technical certificate or associate degree at a community college significantly boosts earnings. However, most community college students — including those who place into remedial classes — are trying to earn academic credentials.

Employers are doing more to train workers for skilled blue-collar jobs, reports U.S. News.

U.S. lags in preschool, college graduation

The U.S. is falling behind the world in college-educated workers, concludes a OECD report on education in 46 countries. “The U.S. hasn’t backslid, but other countries have made big gains,”  OECD Education Director Andreas Schleicher said.

In the past, the U.S. ranked second in the world in the percentage of adults with postsecondary vocational or academic education. Today, the U.S. has slipped to fifth position.

South Korea leads the world: nearly 70 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are college educated. Only 46 percent of young U.S. workers have earned a certificate or degree.

The U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college-educated workers by 2020. College graduation rates are falling. according to a new report. Among students who started college in 2009, the year Obama launched his college campaign, only 53 percent had graduated in six years.

College enrollment rates have fallen since 2008, especially for low-income students. In 2013, just 46 percent of low-income high school graduates enrolled in two-year and four-year institutions, according to Census data.

More than 70 percent of young children attend preschool in OECD countries, compared to 41 percent of U.S. 3-year-olds and 66 percent of 4-year-olds. “It’s an area where the U.S. trails quite a bit behind,” said Schleicher.

German schools improve — for low achievers


Immigrant children learn German in a “welcome” class at a Berlin school. Credit: Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters

Germany has increased test scores while decreasing inequality, writes Carly Berwick in The Atlantic.

“PISA shock” hit Germany in 2000, when students scored below the international average (and below the U.S.)  in all three tested subjects.

Among the OECD countries,German schools posted the largest gap between top and bottom quartile students. Students with immigrant parents were much less likely to qualify for the college-prep track.

Germany’s reform efforts included the creation of national standards and standards-based tests for students in grades three and eight, which sounds much like the U.S. approach. But unlike the U.S., Germany doesn’t penalize schools for poor performance, nor does it publicize school-level test scores. Experts say its focus instead on providing school-based support, and monitoring and targeting the most disadvantaged students has allowed it to improve performance.

By 2012, German students scored above the OECD average, in part due to “dramatic increases” in math scores for disadvantaged students.

Some parts of Germany are phasing out the lowest high school track, which led only to low-wage jobs.

While Germany has reduced inequality, it’s done little for its high achievers, write Fordham’s Checker Finn and Brandon Wright.

Since 2009, “the percentage of German top scorers has dropped in every math and science measure across age groups—fourth grade, eighth grade, and age 15—as well as fourth grade reading.”

Mediocre U.S. scores: Don’t blame poverty

When U.S. students post mediocre scores on international tests, poverty is “the elephant in the room,” says American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Others point to a “poverty crisis” rather than an “education crisis.”

The elephant is not in the room, write Michael Petrilli and Brandon Wright in Education Next. U.S. schools do as well — or poorly — educating low-income students as other countries. Furthermore, U.S. children aren’t more likely to be poor: Those sky-high child poverty rates really are measuring inequality rather than absolute poverty.

Overall, the U.S. rates 28th in math proficiency for advantaged students among the 34 countries in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Disadvantaged U.S. students rank 20th compared to similar students in other PISA countries.

Our advantaged students may do better than poor kids here, but they don’t outperform similar students in developed countries.

While income inequality is high in the U.S., absolute poverty is not especially high, Petrilli and Wright argue.  Including all forms of income, including welfare benefits, the U.S. poverty rate is lower than Britain’s, the same as Germany’s and “barely higher than Finland’s.”

Poverty drags down performance here — and everywhere, they conclude.  The U.S. is not an outlier.

Socioeconomic disadvantage — such as few books in the home — explains some of the gap in scores, according to a report  by three economists. “Once we adjust for social status, we are doing much better than we think,” Stanford’s Martin Carnoy told the New York Times.

“There is no way you can blame socioeconomic status for the performance of the United States,”  countered Andreas Schleicher, who runs PISA for the OECD. “When you look at all dimensions of social background, the United States does not suffer a particular disadvantage.”

According to OECD’s disadvantage index, which includes “parental education and occupation, household wealth, educational resources at home and other measures of social and economic status,” less than 15 percent of U.S. students “come from the bottom rung of society,” reports the Times. “And yet, Mr. Schleicher found, 65 percent of principals in American schools say at least 30 percent of their students come from disadvantaged families, the most among nations participating in the PISA tests.”