Don’t know much about ‘stronomy

Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? One in four Americans gets it wrong, according to a National Science Foundation report.

But the rest of the world doesn’t know science facts either, writes Eleanor Barkhorn in The Atlantic. I’m not sure if the international results are comforting or alarming.

5. Electrons are smaller than atoms

Correct answer: True

Reading English is harder

The U.S. showing on that international reading test is better than you might think, writes Dan Willingham. Learning to read English is a lot harder than learning to read most other languages — including Finnish. English has a “deep orthography.” Finnish is “shallow.”

His conclusion:  “Early elementary teachers in the US are doing a good job with reading despite teaching reading in a language that is difficult to learn.”

U.S. vs. the world in sports and school

Why is the U.S. so good at athletics — look at the Olympic medal count — and so mediocre in education? Not so fast, answers Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. Sure, the U.S. and China win the most gold (and silver and bronze) medals. We’re also very big countries.  Looking at the per capita medal count (as of Aug. 10) tells a different story.

The U.S. ranks 40th in Olympic medals per capita on the chart, but “an impressive eighth in the world in reading” on PISA, Petrilli writes.

In raw numbers of high-scoring students, the U.S. is number one for math and reading, according to PISA. (Remember that China and India don’t participate.)

It’s good to be big, Petrilli writes.

The reason that the world’s best universities continue to be populated by so many Americans is that (1) most of those universities are here, and (2) we produce more top K-12 students than anybody else. As long as that’s the case, we will continue to lead the world economically and culturally.

But watch out for the Chinese.

Catching up to the world? Not so much

Despite gains in reading, math and science, U.S. students remain in the middle of the international pack, concludes a Harvard analysis in Education Next.

From 1995 to 2009, the U.S. ranked 25th out of 49 nations in fourth- and eighth-grade test score gains in math, reading, and science. In the fastest improving countries, Latvia, Chile, and Brazil, students are improving at nearly three times the U.S. rate. Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate of U.S. students.

Over the 14-year period, U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders raised their NAEP scores by nearly “the equivalent of one additional year’s worth of learning.”

Yet when compared to gains made by students in other countries, progress within the United States is middling, not stellar. While 24 countries trail the U.S. rate of improvement, another 24 countries appear to be improving at a faster rate. Nor is U.S. progress sufficiently rapid to allow it to catch up with the leaders of the industrialized world.

Within the U.S., Maryland, Florida, Delaware, and Massachusetts improved at two to three times the rate of Iowa, Maine, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

A fraction of the U.S. gains can be attributed to “catch-up” theory:  Low achievers have more room for improvement. Spending more on education had little effect.
. . . on average, an additional $1000 in per-pupil spending is associated with an annual gain in achievement of one-tenth of 1 percent of a standard deviation. But that trivial amount is of no statistical or substantive significance. Overall, the 0.12 correlation between new expenditure and test-score gain is just barely positive.

The gains in elementary and middle school fade by high school, the authors write. U.S. 17-year-olds have shown “only minimal gains” over the past two decades

Colleges pay recruiters to bring in foreign students

Small colleges are paying recruiters to bring in foreign students who’ll pay full tuition. It’s illegal to pay U.S. recruiters, but not those based overseas.

Houston Community College has opened an overseas campus that some call Crazy College of Qatar.

Us vs. them

Education Week’s Quality Counts 2012 report is titled “Global Challenge: Education in a Competitive World.”

Study: Few affluent U.S. districts are world class

America’s elite suburban districts rarely provide a world-class education, concludes When the Best is Mediocre, a study by Jay Greene and Josh McGee in Education Next. Their Global Report Card compares math and reading between 2004 and 2007 for most U.S. public school districts with the average in 25 developed countries that are “economic peers and sometime competitors.”
Well-to-do and politically connected families believe they’ve escaped mediocre schools by moving to affluent suburban districts, Greene and McGee write. But their children won’t be competing with inner-city students, when they grow up. In a global economy, they’ll be competing for top jobs with  top students from around the world.

In wealthy, white-and-Asian Beverly Hills, students score in the 76th percentile in math compared to other California students, but only in the 53rd percentile on the Global Report Card.

If Beverly Hills were relocated to Canada, it would be at the 46th percentile in math achievement, a below-average district. If the city were in Singapore, the average student in Beverly Hills would only be at the 34th percentile in math performance.

The top district in the U.S. is Pelham in Massachusetts: The average student scores at the 95th percentile in math compared to the international average. The district includes Amherst College and other elite colleges and universities are nearby.

Palo Alto schools, which educate the children of Stanford professors and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (and my daughter!) hit the 64th percentile in math.

Seven of the top 20 public-school districts in math achievement are charter schools (some states treat charters as their own districts), Greene and McGee write. The list includes Roxbury Prep in Boston and KIPP Infinity in New York City, “no-excuses” schools for low-income black and Hispanic students.

Many of the traditional districts with top scores are rural rather than suburban.

Overall, only 6 percent of U.S. school districts score in the top third on the Global Report Card. Most are small.

Big-city districts do poorly on the report card:  The average Washington, D.C. student is at the 11th percentile in math, the Detroit student at the 12th percentile, Los Angeles at the 20th, New York City at the 32nd and Miami at the 33rd percentile.

Study: U.S. students lag in math, reading

Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete? asks Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson and colleagues in Education Next.  In math, 32 percent of U.S. students test as proficient. Students in 22 countries perform significantly better.

. . .  58 percent of Korean students and 56 percent of Finnish students performed at or above a proficient level. Other countries in which a majority—or near majority—of students performed at or above the proficiency level included Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Massachusetts is the only state in which (slightly) more than half of students are proficient in math.

Fifty percent of Asian-American students, 42 percent of whites, 15 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks test as proficient in math.

All students in 16 countries outperform U.S. whites, the study finds. In addition to the usual suspects, that includes Germany, Belgium, and Canada.

I’d like to see more analysis of Canadian schools. The culture is a lot closer to ours than Korea or Finland. If Canadians can learn math, Americans should be able to learn math.

The U.S. does better in reading.  Whites read about as well as all students in Canada, Japan and New Zealand. Once again, Massachusetts’ students are the most likely to be proficient.

Hey, big spender

The U.S. spends more on education than any OECD country except for Switzerland, according to Veronique de Rugy, a Mercatus Center senior research fellow.  The U.S. spends an average of $91,700 per student between the ages of six and 15, a third more than high-scoring Finland, she estimates.

Is Obama a college graduate?

The U.S. has dropped from first to 11th in college completion, according to the OECD. But transfers don’t count as college graduates in U.S. statistics, reports Mike Kirst on The College Puzzle. President Obama, who earned a Columbia degree, wouldn’t be considered a college graduate in the OECD tables because he started at Occidental College and transferred. International comparisons aren’t valid or useful unless data is reported consistently.

Increasingly, U.S. students “swirl” through several colleges before completing a degree. Or not. Kirst writes:

We have major problems with completion, but so do other countries. Our completion rate for associates and  two-year technical degrees is the major cause of low international rankings.

For the record, I believe Barack Obama is a college graduate. And a Christian. Born in Hawaii.