The Real Lesson of Singapore Math!

By now you’ve probably heard that Singapore and Shanghai are the two places on earth with the smartest kids in the entire world. We can see their PISA scores (go to page 5) are right at the top.

Case closed, right? Whatever they are doing in education, we in the US need to emulate that in order to catch up! Common Core! StudentsFirst! Teach for America! Race to the Top! PARCC! Bust those teacher unions! No more recess! All test prep all the time! Charter Schools! Turn the schools over to the billionaires (Gates, Bloomberg, Koch family, Walton family, and their hirelings and shills)!

But wait a second.

Have you noticed that an ENORMOUS fraction of the low-skilled, low-paid people living in Singapore are temporary foreign workers from various parts of Asia and Africa and are not allowed to bring their kids with them? Those kids are raised back in the workers’ homelands by various relatives, far away, and only get to see their parents at long intervals (somebody has to fly somewhere); back home, jobs are even scarcer and worse-paid, so the parents go elsewhere to try support their families.

Now, everywhere in the world, family income is very, very closely linked to children’s test scores in school. It’s one of the tightest correlations there are in the social sciences, as you can see in the simple scatter-plots I have repeatedly shown in this blog over the past 4 or 5 years. (Try using terms like “poverty” “income” and “scores” together in the search box on this page and be prepared to look through a lot of posts with such graphs, from all over!)

If one-quarter to one-third of the population of a country was legally not permitted to have children in the schools, and it was the low-paying 1/4 to 1/3 of the population, then the scores of the remainder of the kids would, quite naturally, be pretty darned good, since the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 of the distribution just got cut off.

If we systematically excluded the poorest quarter or third of our American student population from taking PISA, we know that our scores would be pretty darned high as well.*

Hmm, maybe the leaning tower of PISA hype is falling.

 

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*Let’s remember that this WAS official policy in many states of the USA up until 1865: a large fraction of the population (guess which one!) was forbidden to send their kids to schools at all and it was explicitly forbidden even to teach them to read privately. When Jim Crow was established from the 1870s to the early 1960s, school facilities for Blacks and Hispanics, BY DESIGN of the racist authorities, so inferior to those for whites that they were a national disgrace. Which is why the calls for going back to the good old days should be so infuriating. There WERE NO GOOD OLD DAYS.

How the US press continues to parrot the ‘party line’ that American students suck, despite the facts

This excellent post on how perhaps US schools aren’t so bad after all comes from The Daily Howler by Bob Somerby. He does a great service by putting together the points I was trying to make when I showed graphs and figures from the TIMMS report showing how well the US did. His summary is much better put-together than mine. Good job, Bob!

FOOLED ABOUT SCHOOLS: Fools for Finland!

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2012Part 5—Good news outscored by script: How well did American students do on last year’s international tests?That can’t be easily answered. In reading, American students scored very near the top of the world. Among the large nations which took part, only Russia outscored the U.S.

In reading, American students outscored the vast bulk of the world! Unless you read major American papers, where this success was largely obscured.

In math, American students did somewhat less well—and without any question, a fairly small group of Asian nations tend to outscore the world by significant margins in math. That said, here’s a surprise:

In fourth-grade and eighth-grade math, American scores were “not measurably different” from the scores of students in Finland.

We mention Finland for an obvious reason. In the past decade, this small, middle-class, unicultural nation has been all the rage in America’s low-scoring press corps. Its strong performance on international tests has been a constant source of commentary from journalists who don’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about.

That’s why you might think it would count as news when the U.S. came close to matching Finland on last year’s international tests. Indeed, Finland was walloped by some U.S. states—states which took part in last year’s testing as independent “education systems.”

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