U.S. is above average in math, science

U.S. eighth graders in 36 states outperform the international average, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. In science, U.S. students in 46 states outscored the global competition.

However, even in the top-performing states — Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota — fewer U.S. students scored at the highest levels than students in several East Asian countries, notes the New York Times.

“It’s better news than we’re used to,” said David Driscoll, the chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the national exams commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. “But it’s still not anything to allow us to rest on our laurels.”

While 19 percent of eighth graders in Massachusetts, the highest-performing state, scored at the advanced level in math, close to 50 percent were advanced in South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

Twenty-four percent of Massachusetts students achieved the advanced level, compared with 40 percent in Singapore.

France, Germany, Denmark, China and India did not participate, notes Paul Peterson, a Harvard education professor.

This global math achievement graph, via Education Week, shows the U.S. tied with Britain. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan — you sense a pattern perhaps — do the best.

In science, the top seven performers globally are: Singapore, Massachusetts, Taiwan, Vermont, South Korea, Japan and New Hampshire.

In Asian schools, boys behave

School boys in China, South Korea and Taiwan aren’t more disruptive than girls, while there’s a large gender gap in behavior in the U.S., according to a University of Pittsburgh study.  Yet U.S., Korean and Taiwanese teachers see girls as better behaved, notes Ed Week.

Teaching in Philly and Taiwan

Claire teaches third grade at an inner-city Philadelphia school. Sister Nikka taught aboriginal students for a year in Taiwan. Scholastic discovered their blog here and asked them to write New Teacher: Two Sisters Tell Their Stories.

Monday, March 1, 2010:
How does your school begin the day?

Taiwan, 8:10 a.m.
I walk into the beautiful grassy entrance way of my school in Nan Ao, greeted by hellos from students scattered about the school grounds who are picking up leaves and sweeping. There are a few teachers dispersed amongst them. Everyone is cleaning and working together. There is music playing. In a few minutes, they will line up in the school courtyard to formally greet each other and begin the day.

All 200 students stand completely still and face the flag. A student band plays a solemn national anthem while another group slowly raises the flag. The students, in unison, bow towards the line to formally greet one another. Then they turn to their teachers, bow, and say, “laoshihao,” Hello, teacher.  -Nikka

Philadelphia, 9:22 a.m.
Packed together on cafeteria benches, students scramble to finish their breakfasts. The school climate officer begins to quiet the room. After several rounds of “SHOW ME YOUR QUIET SIGNAL,” (a peace sign) the school climate officer leads the staff and students through two recitations. First, the Pledge of Allegiance. Second, the school rules.

“School rule number one. There is no violence at our school. Violence will not be tolerated. If you feel that you have to be violent you will leave the school. If a teacher or a parent loses their mind and becomes violent they will have to leave the school.

“School rule number two. We have a beautiful school. Do not litter. We pride ourselves on our beautiful facility. Keep it clean and beautiful.”

“School rule number three. All students must be accompanied by an adult at all times. There are no hall passes. An adult is your hall pass. The only place you may be by yourself is the bathroom stall.”

As the climate officer reaches the end of the rules, students are still making their way into the cafeteria just in time for school to begin. -Claire

Claire’s school has no recess for fear children will be hit by stray bullets.  On the other hand, Nikka had a student who wanted to grow up to be a beggar.

90% of life is showing up

Nikka Landau teaches in Taiwan, where teacher absenteeism is not an issue. A teacher always shows up to work unless seriously ill. So do students.

Claire Landau teaches third grade in Philadelphia, where truancy is common for both teachers and students. She writes to her sister:

Your teachers and students go to school with a purpose. For a purpose. Here in Philly, school is a place you show up at (or don’t show up at) each day. This is true for students and it is clearly true for teachers as well.

. . . Raising attendance means schools must come up with innovative ways to make their communities feel responsible for the school and make parents feel accountable for their children’s performance in school. For teachers, raising attendance, means creating a space where teachers are supported and feel motivated to work hard and give their energy.

Finally, measuring attendance and demanding that both, teachers, parents and students do better would mean that, instead of continually passing the buck, we would all have to deal with each other.

Claire recalls a recent Friday: Six teachers out, no substitutes.

Learning in Taiwan, Portugal

Taiwanese elementary students use hands-on learning, writes Bill Costello of Making Minds Matter.

For example, Taiwanese students went on a field trip to a castle they studied in social studies; they collected local plants and used them to make a dye in science; and they worked with compasses and rulers in math.

. . . I observed a science teacher and art teacher in Taiwan collaborate in guiding students through a science project that involved drawing.

Portugal is investing heavily in interactive whiteboards and laptops, writes Don Tapscott on Wikinomics. But what’s remarkable about seven-year-olds looking up the definition of “equinox” on their laptops is how well these kids can read.