Singapore up, Finland down

Singapore’s students are the best in the world in math, science and reading, proclaims Quartz, which has been crunching the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) numbers. “Finland has fallen from its perch (though it remains a very high performer).

Singapore students earn very high scores on international tests in math, science and reading.

Singapore students earn very high scores on international tests in math, science and reading.

You can compare U.S. results to other countries here.

Massachusetts and North Carolina students were tested separately.

In science, Massachusetts teens scored far above the U.S. and international average in science, and also were above average in reading and math.

The U.S. isn’t going to turn into Singapore, but perhaps more states could emulate Massachusetts.

Canada also does well on PISA, while spending less on education than the U.S.

U.S. math scores are falling

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-17-am2+2=??? Don’t ask an American 15-year-old. The U.S. ranks near the bottom in math compared to 35 industrialized nations, according to the latest PISA results.

U.S. scores fell in math and remained about the same in reading and science, near the international average.

PISA is given to 15-year-olds in 72 countries.

Higher performing nations teach fewer math topics in greater depth, Andreas Schleicher, who runs the test, told journalists. Students master a topic and then move on, rather than cycling back to the same concept each year, he said.

PISA results matter, writes Robert Rothman. “PISA is designed to measure how well students can apply what they have learned to real-world problems.” In a follow-up study, Canadian students’ results correlated with their success in college and the job market.

The usual excuses don’t apply, he argues. U.S. students aren’t more likely to live in poverty than children in other OECD countries. U.S. 15-year-olds are slightly less likely to be enrolled in school.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-25-39-amHong Kong has lots of poverty — and high scores for all students. Estonia also is an equity champion.

The U.S. improved on measures of equity, notes Amanda Ripley in the New York Times. “In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world.”

PISA scores don’t correlate with education spending, Ripley observes. The U.S. spends more than most OECD countries for average or below-average performance. Malta spends about the same — and outperforms the U.S.

Luxembourg is the biggest spender, with mediocre results, followed by Switzerland, which has high scores. Taiwan, which spends less than average, and Singapore, which spends more, have similar, very high math scores.

Ripley summarizes what matters:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

“I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” Schleicher said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

PISA: Attitude doesn’t predict achievement

Image result for iceland children enthusiasticChildren in Iceland run to celebrate World Harmony Day.

Around the world, students who like school don’t necessarily do better in reading and math, according to a new PISA study.

Sixty-four countries participated in the 2012 PISA survey. No direct relationship was found between attitude and achievement in all but Qatar, Iceland and Australia.

Controlling for students’ ability, family socioeconomic status and gender made little difference, though attitude did correlate with achievement for well-to-do students.

Does self-efficacy really matter? asks Peter DeWitt. Yes, it does, he concludes.

Self-efficacy is the belief that what I do can make a difference. Without it why bother?

Helsinking: Finns’ scores slide

Finland’s much vaunted school system is Helsinking, reports the Economist. PISA scores are falling, especially for boys and the children of immigrants.

Furthermore, surveys should Finnish students are “glum” and more prone than other Europeans to say their classroom environment is bad for learning, reports the Economist. “About half of 14- and 15-year-olds feel that their teachers do not care about their lives.”

Finns worry that test scores are falling and students are unhappy.

Finns worry that test scores are falling and students are unhappy.

Starting in August, a new national curriculum is meant to restore the “joy and meaningfulness of learning.”

In addition to more art, music, teachers will assign more multi-disciplinary team projects, such as a module on Earth’s origins “combining the Big Bang with religious lessons and Finnish poetry.”

Critics say this will worsen the rising inequality “by reducing the time poorer pupils spend on core subjects.”

Both defenders and opponents of the new curriculum think children are less motivated, reports the Economist. “Ten years ago education was highly valued among all Finns,” says Ilppo Kivivuori, deputy head teacher at Hiidenkivi school in Helsinki. “Now that is less clear.”

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.

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.”

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.

U.S. kids do more homework, learn less

 U.S. teens spend more time on homework, but learn less than students in other developed countries, according to the Programme of International Scholastic Asessment (PISA).

American 15-year-olds do about six hours of homework per week. In most countries, students who spend more time doing homework also score higher on the math exam, reports Libby Nelson on Vox. But, in the U.S., “doing more homework correlated with slightly lower scores.”

I wonder if math homework is different in the U.S. than math homework in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, where math scores are high and doing more homework seems to pay off.

Are U.S. students more likely to exaggerate how much they actually study?

And why is the homework payoff so much lower in high-scoring Shanghai?

U.S. teens are so-so at financial literacy

Most U.S. 15-year-olds don’t understand personal finance issues such as taxes, loans or savings, according to an international test of financial literacy.

U.S. students were about average on the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) assessment. Shanghai-China students showed the most financial savvy, followed Belgium (Flemish), Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Students did not do better in countries that teach financial literacy in school.

Sample questions are here. The shares question is “level 3” out of 5.

This graph shows the price of one Rich Rock share over a 12-month period.
Financial graph

Which statements about the graph are true?

Statement Is the statement true or false?
The best month to buy the shares was September.
The share price increased by about 50% over the year.