PISA denial

U.S. educators are downplaying PISA results that show Asian countries excel, while the U.S. rank is slipping, writes Marc Tucker in PISA Denial. After all, few Asians are winning Nobel prizes or “starting game-changing business like Apple, Oracle, Google or Microsoft,” they argue. Maybe PISA measures things that aren’t very important, while U.S. schools are teaching creativity and innovation.

That’s sophistry, responds Tucker.  Those game-changing entrepreneurs are highly educated and innovative and creative. Their companies don’t hire creative people with mediocre reading, writing and math skills.

 They do not have to choose between well-educated and highly competent people, on the one hand, and creative and innovative people on the other. They demand and can get both. In the same person.

PISA measures “the ability to apply what is learned to real world problems” and increasingly is focusing on applying knowledge to “unanticipated, novel problems,” writes Tucker.

Creativity does not take place in a knowledge vacuum. It is typically the product of the rubbing together, so to speak, of two or more bodies of knowledge, of holding up the framework associated with one body of knowledge to another arena that it was not designed to illuminate. When that happens, odds are that the new insights, born of the application of the old framework to the novel problem, will emerge. The literature tells us that this means that you are most likely to get the kind of creativity we are most interested in from highly educated people who are deeply versed in very different arenas.

Asian educators are working hard to learn from U.S. schools, writes Tucker. They want to place more stress on individual initiative without accepting the “violence and chaos” they see as the cultural price. Some Americans want Asian achievement levels with less social conformity, but we’re not really trying to get there. Instead, “we are working hard at denial.”

PISA matters, agrees Eric Hanushek, who disposes of several excuses for U.S. mediocrity.

 While our low ranking has been seen on earlier international assessments, there are many reasons to believe that low cognitive skills (as assessed by PISA) will be increasingly important for our economic future.

We don’t have to be Singapore or Korea. If the U.S. could reach Canadian achievement levels, the average worker would earn 20 percent more, Hanushek writes.

BTW, Silicon Valley, where I live, is filled with entrepreneurs educated in India, China and elsewhere.  Forty-four percent of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs in 2012, down from 52 percent in 2005.

U.S. adults lag in numeracy, literacy

U.S. adults are dumber than the average human, proclaims the New York Post. A new international study doesn’t quite say that. But it’s not great news.

art“In math, reading and problem solving using technology – all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength – American adults scored below the international average,” the Post reports.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and other countries scored higher than the United States in all three areas on the test, reports the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Americans ranked 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21 out of 23 in numeracy. In a new test of “problem solving in technology rich environments,” the U.S. ranked 17 out of 19. Respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.

American baby boomers outperformed people of the same age overseas, reports the Wall Street JournalYounger Americans lagged behind their international peers “in some cases by significant margins.”

The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives, said Joseph Fuller, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who studies competitiveness. “We had a lead and we blew it,” he said, adding that the generation of workers who have fallen behind their peers would have a difficult time catching up.

“We have a substantial percentage of the work force that does not have the basic aptitude to continue to learn and to make the most out of new technologies,” Mr. Fuller said. “That manifests itself in lower rates of productivity growth, and it’s productivity growth that drives real wage growth.”

Workers in Spain and Italy posted the lowest scores.

With no soccer ball, every child ‘wins’

According to the Soccer Association of Midlake, kids imaginations are runnign wild. (Steve DePolo/FLICKR)

According to the Soccer Association of Midlake, kids imaginations are running wild. (Steve DePolo/FLICKR)

Worried about too much competition, many Canadian youth soccer associations no longer keep score, reports This is That, a CBC radio show. Removing the soccer ball is even better, according to the Soccer Association of Midlake, Ontario.

Without a ball, “it’s absolutely impossible to say ‘this team won’ and ‘this team lost’ or ‘this child is better at soccer than that child,’” said Helen Dabney-Coyle. “We want our children to grow up learning that sport is not about competition, rather it’s about using your imagination. If you imagine you’re good at soccer, then, you are.”

Is this for real? No, it’s satire. But it’s eerily close to plausible.

Calgary school: ‘We don’t condone heroics’

Seventh-grader Briar MacLean pushed a knife-wielding bully away from his victim — and was reprimanded for “playing the hero,” reports the National Post (Canada).  The Calgary, Alberta school “does not condone heroics,” the principal told MacLean’s mother.

Briar, 13, saw the bully poke and prod his victim, then put him in a headlock. He heard a flick and heard classmates “say there was a knife.” Briar shoved the bully into a wall, stopping the fight.

The teacher, who was at the other end of the room, noticed and called the principal. The boy with the knife was suspended. Several periods later, Briar was called to the office and kept there for the rest of the day. The police searched his locker. The vice-principal called Briar’s mother, Leah O’Donnell, to say he’d done the wrong thing by not waiting for the teacher.

“I asked: ‘In the time it would have taken him to go get a teacher, could that kid’s throat have been slit?’ She said yes, but that’s beside the point. That we ‘don’t condone heroics in this school.’ ”

O’Donnell says “she understands the school’s desire to keep students from getting hurt, but fears it is teaching the wrong lesson,” reports the Post. Students should learn to stand up to bullies and help each other, she believes.

Running away, tattling usually just make things worse. . . . Most of the time bullies back down when confronted, she added.

“What are we going to do if there are no heroes in the world? There would be no police, no fire, no armed forces. If a guy gets mugged on the street, everyone is going to run away and be scared or cower in the corner. It’s not right.”

“What are we teaching these children?” asked Briar’s mother in a letter to the Calgary Sun “When did we decide as a society to allow our children to grow up without spines? Without a decent sense of the difference between right and wrong?”

Update: An 11-year-old Maryland boy on a school bus said, “I wish I had a gun to protect everyone at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was suspended for 10 days. His son “wanted to be the hero,” said Bruce Henkelman.

The boy was questioned by the principal and a sheriff’s deputy, who wanted to search the family home for firearms, Henkelman said. He refused. The suspension later was reduced to one day.

Study: Disadvantaged students in U.S. are gaining

U.S.15-year-olds fare better on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam when the data is adjusted to compare similar students concludes a study by Stanford Graduate School of Education and Economic Policy Institute researchers. Low-income students in  the U.S. are gaining on disadvantaged students elsewhere, the study found.

Overall, the U.S.  ranked 14th in reading and 25th in math out of the 33 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), notes the Hechinger Report.

The United States has a larger proportion of economically disadvantaged students than do higher-performing countries. Finland, for example, reports that 4 percent of its students live in low-income families. In the United States, nearly a quarter of children live in poverty.

(Stanford Professor Martin) Carnoy and his coauthor Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute also contend that low-income students were oversampled in the U.S. results on the 2009 PISA test. About 40 percent of American PISA-takers attended a school where half or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, although nationwide only 23 percent of students attend such schools.

The most educationally disadvantaged U.S. students, as measured by the number of books in children’s homes, have been improving in reading and math since PISA was first given in 2000, the new analysis concludes. Test scores among similar students in Canada, Finland and South Korea have been dropping.

“We’re making progress with the kids at the bottom,” said Carnoy.  However, the most economically advantaged U.S. students in America are slipping compared to similar students in the countries analyzed.

To “go after the academic issues in the U.S. schools,” it’s necessary to tackle Poverty, Carnoy argues. “If you do policy that significantly reduces poverty in the U.S., I guarantee you, you will reduce the distance between top and bottom in our own country … and you’ll certainly raise those kids relative to kids in Finland, [South] Korea and Canada.”

Perhaps we can’t be Korea or Finland, but it would be nice to up there with Canada.

Ontario: Anti-abortion speech is ‘bullying’

Politicians are trying to suppress political speech by calling it “bullying,” charges Hans Bader. He’s got a doozy of an example from Canada: Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten says Catholic schools can’t tell students abortion is wrong because anti-abortion speech is “misogyny,” which is banned by Bill 13, the anti-bullying law.

Religious schools are subject to censorship, Broten said.

“We do not allow and we’re very clear with the passage of Bill 13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violates human rights and which brings a lack of acceptance to participation in schools,” she said. …

. . . “Bill 13 is about tackling misogyny, taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.”

U.S. protections for free speech are much stronger than in Canada, but some school administrators have tried to bully students who disapprove of homosexuality, Bader writes.

When a Wisconsin high school newspaper ran dueling student opinion pieces on whether same-sex couples should be able to adopt children, the student who took the “no” side was accused of bullying – which can lead to expulsion – by the superintendent.

However, a conservative Christian student successfully challenged a school “harassment” code that punished students who oppose homosexuality, Bader writes. In Saxe v. State College Area School District (2001), a federal appeals court ruled there is no “harassment” exception to the First Amendment for speech which offends members of minority groups.

Educating immigrants

In the U.S., immigrant students outperform natives of similar socioeconomic status, reports the Center on International Education Benchmarking. That’s true in Australia as well.

Canada’s immigrant students match native students’ performance after five years in school, according to Pathways to Success: How Knowledge and Skills at Age 15 Shape Future Lives in Canada.  Sixty-one percent of Canada’s immigrant students go on to university compared to 42 percent of native-born students. I wonder how that correlates to the percentage of immigrants from Asian countries.

College isn’t for everyone

The crusade to send everyone to college has backfired, writes Robert Samuelson. It’s dumbed down colleges and filled high schools with bored, frustrated students who see no connection between their college-prep classes and their goals.

In Canada, male apprentices earn slightly more than community college graduates, new research shows.

‘Best practices’ says who?

Marc Tucker’s Surpassing Shanghai, which looks at “best practices” of schools in Shanghai, Japan, Finland Singapore and Canada, exemplifies the worst practices, writes Jay Greene in Education Next.

Tucker and his National Center on Education and the Economy colleagues describe characteristics of high-achieving countries’ schools, but there’s no proof they’ve picked the key factors, Greene writes.

Worse, Tucker’s recommendations ignore the “best practices” identified by his colleagues. He co-wrote the chapter on Japan and concludes that centralized control of education is a key to success. But every other case study highlights the importance of decentralization, writes Greene.

In Shanghai the local school system “received permission to create its own higher education entrance examination. This heralded a trend of exam decentralization, which was key to localized curricula.”

The chapter on Finland describes the importance of the decision “to devolve increasing levels of authority and responsibility for education from the Ministry of Education to municipalities and schools…. [T]here were no central initiatives that the government was trying to push through the system.”

Singapore is similarly described: “Moving away from the centralized top-down system of control, schools were organized into geographic clusters and given more autonomy…. It was felt that no single accountability model could fit all schools. Each school therefore set its own goals and annually assesses its progress toward meeting them…”

And the chapter on Canada teaches us that “the most striking feature of the Canadian system is its decentralization.”

Tucker also writes that high-achieving countries don’t use the market mechanisms favored by U.S. education reformers, such as charter schools and vouchers, notes Greene. However, the Shanghai chapter describes what it calls “the Chinese version of school choice.”

Canada also offers an “extensive system of school choice,” Greene writes.

‘Alternate’ math confuses kids, parents

Canada’s K-8 schools are teaching a math curriculum that’s too confusing for parents to understand, reports Maclean’s.

Children are using  alternative methods, such as using grids, blocks, or strips of paper to multiply.  “We’re talking about adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. It shouldn’t be so overly complicated that even parents can’t understand it,” said Anna Stokke, a professor math at the University of Winnipeg. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Stokke began speaking out and soon parents from all over Canada were sending her similar stories of discontent: kids who couldn’t do their homework without help, parents who couldn’t make heads or tails of the assignments so they were hiring tutors, or spending hours looking up math sites on the Internet because the textbooks are so vague. She heard from teachers who felt pressured not to teach the traditional methods. . . . “I don’t have a problem with alternate strategies,” Stokke says. “But I fear they’re learning so many, that in the end they’re not mastering any.”

Many schools now offer Math Nights to show parents how to help their children with homework. A Catholic school offered an online course — 20 minutes a night, four nights a week for eight weeks — to get parents up to speed.

Thirty percent of Canadian parents now supplement their children’s education, reports Maclean’s.

But even students with good grades are confused, says Kim Langen, who runs an after-school enrichment program called Spirit of Math. “They’re really creative—but they don’t know what to do with it,” says Langen.

. . . Grade 5 students . . .  don’t know multiplication facts, have never encountered division, and just look at you blankly when you ask them what 23 + 7 is. In order to build students’ math facts, the ?rst 10 minutes of the 90-minute session is dedicated to drills—then, explains Langen, because they’re not bogged down on simple calculations, they can handle the high-level conceptual work.

Some teachers also have trouble understanding the new math, says Langen.