The average American believes he or she is smarter than the average American, according to a YouGov survey. Fifty-five percent say they’re more intelligent than average, 34 percent say they’re about as smart and only 4 percent believe they’re less intelligent than average Americans.

## Tale of two schools

Students from a primarily Latino public school in the South Bronx got together with students from a ritzy private school for an exercise in “radical empathy,” reports the New York Times magazine in The Tale of Two Schools.

Under the supervision of Narrative 4, the students paired off, one from each school, and shared stories that in some way defined them. When they gathered as a group a few hours later, each student was responsible for telling the other’s story, taking on the persona of his or her partner and telling the story in the first person.

I was impressed by the low-income students’ confidence that they can have a better future. Nagib Gonzalez, 18, said: “Being poor is the biggest motivation for me because I come from the bottom, and my goal is to reach the top. People say that success is not determined by income, and I mostly agree, but I want my success to be determined by income. I want to be able to support my family.”

## Kohn: Parents are too controlling

Millenials aren’t confident, coddled and narcissistic, writes Alfie Kohn in *The Myth of the Spoiled Child*. Parents aren’t too indulgent, he argues. They’re too controlling.

Otherwise liberal parents are adopting socially conservative practices, Kohn believes. “It’s widely assumed that parents are both permissive and overprotective, unable to set limits and afraid to let their kids fail,” he writes. “We’re told that young people receive trophies, praise, and A’s too easily, and suffer from inflated self-esteem and insufficient self-discipline.” Not so, he argues. “Complaints about pushover parents and entitled kids” are nothing new.

It’s possible to be overprotective and controlling.

## Take this test, please

Take This Test (Please), writes John Merrow on Taking Note. He lists five test questions that “may explain why American students score lower than their counterparts in most other advanced nations.”

From the University of Wisconsin/Oshkosh [1] for *high school* students:

Jack shot a deer that weighted (sic) 321 pounds. Tom shot a deer that weighed 289 pounds. How much more did Jack’s deer weigh then (sic) Tom’s deer?

From TeacherVision, part of Pearson :

Linda is paddling upstream in a canoe. She can travel 2 miles upstream in 45 minutes. After this strenuous exercise she must rest for 15 minutes. While she is resting, the canoe floats downstream ½ mile. How long will it take Linda to travel 8 miles upstream in this manner?

Merrow wonders whether students will be “distracted by Linda’s cluelessness,” asking “how long it will take her to figure out that she should grab hold of a branch while she’s resting in order to keep from floating back down the river.”

From a *high school* math test in Oregon:

There are 6 snakes in a certain valley. The population doubles every year. In how many years will there be 96 snakes?

a. 2

b. 3

c. 4

d. 8

The new Common Core standards expect students to do more than subtract and count on their fingers by high school, notes Merrow.

From New York state’s sample tests for *eighth graders*:

Triangle ABC was rotated 90° clockwise. Then it underwent a dilation centered at the origin with a scale factor of 4. Triangle A’B’C’ is the resulting image. What parts of A’B’C’ are congruent to the corresponding parts of the original triangle? Explain your reasoning.

No illustration is provided, says Merrow.

From PISA (for Programme in International Student Assessment), here’s a question for 15-year-olds around the world:

Mount Fuji is a famous dormant volcano in Japan. The Gotemba walking trail up Mount Fuji is about 9 kilometres (km) long. Walkers need to return from the 18 km walk by 8 pm.

Toshi estimates that he can walk up the mountain at 1.5 kilometres per hour on average, and down at twice that speed. These speeds take into account meal breaks and rest times.

Using Toshi’s estimated speeds, what is the latest time he can begin his walk so that he can return by 8 pm?

The correct answer (11 am) was provided by 55 percent of 15-year-olds in Shanghai and only 9 percent of U.S. students.

American kids score highest in “confidence in mathematical ability,” despite underperforming their peers in most other countries, PISA reports. “Is their misplaced confidence the result of problems like ‘Snakes’ and others of that ilk?” asks Merrow.

## ‘Incredibly good’ is bad for kids

Lavish praise makes kids who aren’t confident less likely to pursue challenges, according to a study titled *That’s Not Just Beautiful—That’s Incredibly Beautiful.*

Honest praise is just fine, writes Eleanor Barkhorn in *The Atlantic*. But adults often heap compliments on children with low self-esteem.

In one study, Dutch children were asked to rate their confidence. Later they were told to copy a famous painting, which would be evaluated by a “famous painter.” There were three random responses to the child’s painting: “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!” (inflated praise); “You made a beautiful drawing!” (non-inflated praise); or no comment about the drawing at all (no praise).

The researchers . . . asked the children to make a new drawing and let them pick their subject: either a complex drawing or a simple one. It turned out that the students with low self esteem were less likely to do a complex drawing if they’d received inflated praise. “Compared to non-inflated praise, inflated praise decreased challenge seeking in children with low self-esteem,” the researchers wrote.

In another study, parents gave more inflated praise to children with low self-esteem than they did to children with high self-esteem.

“Parents seemed to think that the children with low self-esteem needed to get extra praise to make them feel better,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State.

“If you tell a child with low self-esteem that they did incredibly well, they may think they always need to do incredibly well. They may worry about meeting those high standards and decide not to take on any new challenges.”

Confident children can handle excess praise, researchers said.

## PISA: No U.S. gender gap in math, science

U.S. girls do as well as boys in math and science on the PISA exam, notes Liana Heitin on* Ed Week*‘s Curriculum Matters.

In many other countries, the 2012 OECD report notes, “marked gender differences in mathematics performance—in favour of boys—are observed.”

Three years ago, American boys outperformed girls in math on PISA; their science scores were similar.

However, the STEM gender gap hasn’t vanished, reports Erik Robelen.

Take the AP program. In all 10 STEM subjects currently taught and tested, including chemistry, physics, calculus, and computer science, the average scores of females lagged behind males, according to data for the class of 2011.

U.S. girls aren’t as confident as their male classmates, the 2012 PISA report found.

[E]ven when girls perform as well as boys in mathematics, they tend to report less perseverance, less openness to problem-solving, less intrinsic and instrumental motivation to learn mathematics, less self-belief in their ability to learn mathematics and more anxiety about mathematics than boys, on average; they are also more likely than boys to attribute failure in mathematics to themselves rather than to external factors.

Young women are losing ground in computer science, according to Change the Equation: Women earned 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computing in 2012, down from 27 percent about a decade earlier. Of those earning a master’s degree in computer science, only 28 percent were female in 2012, compared with 33 percent in 2001.

## Math isn’t just for ‘math people’

“*I’m just not a math person*” is “the most self-destructive idea in America today,” write Miles Kimball and Noah Smith in *The Atlantic*. You’re not just limiting your own future. “You may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.”

Mathematicians need high math ability, write Kimball and Smith, economics professors who’ve taught math. But few of us are aiming that high. “For *high-school* math, inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.”

Belief in inborn math ability may be responsible for much of the math gender gap, according to Oklahoma City researchers, they write.

Psychologist Carol Dweck and colleagues found students do much better if they believe “you can always greatly change how intelligent you are” than if they think “you have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it.”

In *Intelligence and How to Get It*, Richard Nisbett recounts what happened when Dweck and colleagues told poor minority junior high school students that intelligence is malleable and can be developed by hard work. Learning changes the brain by forming new connections and students are in charge of this change process, psychologists told the students.

Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic. (A control group, who were taught how memory works, showed no such gains.

But improving grades was not the most dramatic effect, “Dweck reported that some of her tough junior high school boys were reduced to tears by the news that their intelligence was substantially under their control.”

Kimball and Smith conclude: “It is no picnic going through life believing that you were born dumb—and are doomed to stay that way.”

## Dual enrollment’s dark side

“Dual enrollment” students earn college credits in high school, but there’s no guarantee they’ve done college work, writes a university math professor. One of his students earned two years of college credit by the age of 18, but can’t solve math problems. Her “learning method” is guessing on multiple-choice tests.

In Oregon, taking college courses boosts high school students’ confidence — and the odds they’ll enroll in college. But is their confidence justified?

## Study: Girls can compete in math

Competitive Timed Tests Might Be Contributing to the Gender Gap in Math, writes Emily Richmond in*The Atlantic*.

Boys do better than girls in timed math contests. But a new study of Utah elementary students finds that girls do just as well as boys in a second round of math competition and begin to do better by the third round. Furthermore, “the first-round advantage for boys disappeared if the time element was removed from that competition,” writes Richmond.

“One of the reasons girls don’t do well in competitive settings is that they don’t think they’re as good as boys—but they really are,” said Brigham Young University economist Joseph Price, one of the study’s co-authors. “That’s an information problem, rather than evidence that girls are destined for a certain outcome.”

‘Getting something right in one shot” and “working within a rigid time limit” isn’t a big part of learning math, argues Richmond, who admits she was lousy at timed math drills in school. “Isn’t it more about mastering concepts and building skills over a longer time frame, and having the patience to tackle challenging problem sets that might require multiple attempts?”

Richmond is worried about the gender gap in math. I worry about the gender gap in reading, writing, history, civics and biology, as well as the gap in high school graduation, college enrollment and college graduation. Schoolboys aren’t outperforming schoolgirls in very much these days.

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