Education in India and China

Perhaps you recall the alarming ads from a few years ago about the millions of Chinese and Indian students who weren getting better educations from their system’s schools and wildly out-performing American students. The threat, of course, is that these Asians were about to eat the collective lunches of American students, and that we evil, lazy, stupid, unionized American teachers were to blame.

Lloyd Lofthouse has a column about how lousy the Chinese and Indian school systems are, in fact. I recommend reading it, but, unfortunately, he didn’t cite any of his sources, so I decided to dig around a bit to try to verify his figures.

So far, so good, and let me share a few things I discovered:

education in india

Take a glance at this table that I copied and pasted from a survey of Indian education by some group called CLSA. Notice that by  the high school level (grades 9-12), only thirty-two percent of the children in India are still in school. 

That means that 68% of the children in India have dropped out of school by the time they reach high school.


And according to Hindu Business Online, not probably a hotbed of wild-eyed Marxists, the typical Indian child only spends about 5.1 years in school. Five years!

And while it is true that China has done an amazing job of opening up opportunities for its youth and reducing the illiteracy rates from about 80% to about 5% (mostly the aged), and while it is true that many Chinese students study very hard and do very well on tests, this should be taken with some grains of salt. According to James Fallows in the Atlantic,

“it is certainly arguable the Chinese educational system and culture leads the world in training students how to take tests. But it is not clear whether this type of training prepares students for much else other than taking tests. Certainly I have seen much evidence for this proposition in the Chinese graduate students that I have worked with. My favorite examples were the Chinese students with perfect TOEFL scores who could neither read nor write English in any meaningful way.”

[TOEFL used to mean Test of English as a Foreign Language]

I have not yet been able to nail down figures for what percentage of Chinese students actually make it to middle school or to high school or to college. But from what I see so far, you can rest assured that these numbers are much, much less than 100%!!

Apparently it doesn’t matter to that nearly every other nation has close to 100% union membership among its teachers, notably Finland — another nation whose students appear to be eating our lunch, too, according to the same international tests. It also doesn’t matter that in the USA, states where teacher union membership is high tend to have higher test scores than states where union membership is low.

Remedial College Courses and Real Problems

From a recent discussion on the Concerned4DCPS list about a recent NYT article on the numbers of students taking remedial courses at the college level. I have taken the opportunity to revise and extend my remarks. If you want to read these in chronological order, start at the bottom.


(From me:)

Judge in NY State Throws Out ‘Value-Added Model’ Ratings

I am pleased that in an important, precedent-setting case, a judge in New York State has ruled that using Value-Added measurements to judge the effectiveness of teachers is ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’.

The case involved teacher Sheri Lederman, and was argued by her husband.

“New York Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough said in his decision that he could not rule beyond the individual case of fourth-grade teacher Sheri G. Lederman because regulations around the evaluation system have been changed, but he said she had proved that the controversial method that King developed and administered in New York had provided her with an unfair evaluation. It is thought to be the first time a judge has made such a decision in a teacher evaluation case.”

In case you were unaware of it, VAM is a statistical black box used to predict how a hypothetical student is supposed to score on a Big Standardized Test one year based on the scores of every other student that year and in previous years. Any deviation (up or down) of that score is attributed to the teacher.

Gary Rubinstein and I have looked into how stable those VAM scores are in New York City, where we had actual scores to work with (leaked by the NYTimes and other newspapers). We found that they were inconsistent and unstable in the extreme! When you graph one year’s score versus next year’s score, we found that there was essentially no correlation at all, meaning that a teacher who is assigned the exact same grade level, in the same school, with very similar  students, can score high one year, low the next, and middling the third, or any combination of those. Very, very few teachers got scores that were consistent from year to year. Even teachers who taught two or more grade levels of the same subject (say, 7th and 8th grade math) had no consistency from one subject to the next. See my blog  (not all on NY City) herehere, here,  here, herehere, here, here,  herehere, and here. See Gary R’s six part series on his blog here, here, here, here, here, and here. As well as a less technical explanation here.

Mercedes Schneider has done similar research on teachers’ VAM scores in Louisiana and came up with the same sorts of results that Rubinstein and I did.

Which led all three of us to conclude that the entire VAM machinery was invalid.

And which is why the case of Ms. Lederman is so important. Similar cases have been filed in numerous states, but this is apparently the first one where a judgement has been reached.

(Also read this. and this.)

Charter, Alternative, and On-Line Schools Have Lowest On-Time Graduation Rates, Study Finds


(This article is normally behind a paywall at Education Week.)

Charter, Alternative, Virtual Schools Account for Most Low-Grad-Rate Schools, Study Finds
By Catherine Gewertz on May 9, 2016 6:00 AM

Charter, virtual, and alternative schools account for a disproportionate share of U.S. high schools with low graduation rates, according to a study released Monday. Even though they enroll only a small slice of students, they account for more than half of the U.S. high schools that graduate 67 percent or less of their students in four years.

“Building a Grad Nation,” the seventh in an annual series of reports on U.S. graduation rates, concluded that regular district high schools make up 41 percent of those that didn’t surpass the 67-percent threshold in 2013-14. Charter, virtual, and alternative schools—a small sector, representing only 14 percent of the country’s high schools and 8 percent of its high school students—account for 52 percent of the schools that fell short of that mark. (The remaining 7 percent are vocational and special-education schools.)

The findings offer a challenge to a country that’s renewing its focus on graduation rates through the newly revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Known now as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the law requires states to report four-year graduation rates for schools that enroll 100 students or more, and districts to provide research-based help for schools that graduate fewer than 67 percent in four years.

With that new law in mind, the organizations that issue the “Grad Nation” reports annually—Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the America’s Promise Alliance—shifted their focus for this year’s report, from schools that enroll 300 or more students (about 13,400 schools) to those that enroll 100 or more (about 18,100 schools).

That change nearly tripled the scope of the study of schools with graduation rates of two-thirds or less: from 1,000 schools enrolling 924,000 students to 2,397 schools enrolling 1.23 million students. In a foreshadowing of the work that states face under ESSA, the Grad Nation researchers looked for patterns among the schools with low graduation rates. (Note: This paragraph reflects corrections made to the Grad Nation report.)

The contrast between “regular” district high schools, and alternative, virtual, and charter schools showed the starkest pattern. Here are the shares of U.S. high schools of each type, and their shares of schools with low graduation rates:

Regular high schools:

84 percent of U.S. high schools

7 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Alternative schools:

6 percent of U.S. high schools

57 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Charter schools:

8 percent of U.S. high schools

30 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

Virtual schools:

1 percent of U.S. high schools

87 percent have graduation rates of 67 percent or less

The Grad Nation researchers called attention to the preponderance of low-grad-rate schools among charter, alternative, and virtual schools in part because the numbers of those schools have been rising in the last 15 years. Additionally, they enroll large shares of low-income, black, and Hispanic students.

“In many states, these various high school options have become popular pathways for students that have struggled to stay on track in traditional high schools,” the study says. “Therefore, it is critical that issues surrounding these schools be addressed.”

The report also pinpoints a bigger problem with low-graduation-rate schools in some states than in others. In Alaska, New Mexico, and Florida, 30 percent or more of the high schools have graduation rates of 67 percent or lower.

figure 10

Robert Balfanz, the-co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center, told reporters in a conference call that state variability is a key force in the numbers of low-grad-rate schools. For instance, of all the low-grad-rate schools in Hawaii, 100 percent were charter schools. In Arizona, the number was 73 percent, and in Indiana, 60 percent. Half of the low-grad-rate schools in California were charters. Kentucky, Texas and Washington topped the list of states with particularly high shares of low-grad-rate schools that were alternative schools.

But in some states, the charter sector is “helping solve the dropout crisis” by running many schools with good graduation rates, Balfanz said. He pointed to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Oklahoma as examples.

Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, welcomed the report’s inquiry into graduation rates at different types of schools. But she took issue with its methdology, saying the charter sector’s share of low-grad-rate schools looks worse than it is because researchers didn’t adequately separate alternative schools from mainstream charters. She also pointed out that the study found that more than 4 in 10 charter schools are graduating more than 85 percent of their students.

Many celebrated last December when the nation’s high school graduation rate reached an all-time high of 82 percent for the class of 2014. But the milestone also sparked skepticism about whether states or districts were using shortcuts to boost their diploma numbers, by lowering academic expectations or changing they way they counted transfer students in each class cohort.

The Grad Nation researchers took on those questions, and concluded that there was little or no evidence that such practices were affecting state-level graduation rates. Further analysis would have to be done to make such conclusions at the district level, the report says. It did not examine schools’ increasing reliance on quick credit-recovery programs to improve graduation rates.

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states much more autonomy than they had under the No Child Left Behind Act over the way they handle low-performing schools. With that in mind, the Grad Nation authors urged states to give graduation rates significant weight in the accountability systems, and to make sure that charter, virtual, and alternative schools, as well as traditional high schools, are monitored and provided solid help with low graduation rates.

They also urged states to report five- and six-year graduation rates, to capture a more accurate picture of diploma-earning. Many alternative schools, in particular, were created to serve students who struggled in traditional schools, and who might take longer to earn their diplomas, the report notes. Adding five-year graduation rates to the national picture would boost the rate by 3 percentage points, it says, and adding six-year rates would increase it by another point.



Where DC’s schools rank by family income, test scores, and ethnicity – NYTimes

The New York Times recently ran the results of some pretty fancy number-crunching for all sufficiently-large public school districts in the United States. They graphed family income against ‘years ahead or behind’ in school and also showed the discrepancies in each of those school districts among hispanics, whites, and blacks.

If you haven’t played with the graphs, I urge you to do so. I did a little bit, looking for Washington, DC, my home town, where I and my children attended and where I taught for 30 years. I already knew that DC has one of the largest black-white gaps anywhere in the nation – a gap that 9 years of Edu-Reform under Fenty, Rhee, Gray, Henderson various charter companies have not narrowed at all.

Notice the extremely tight correlation between family income and scores on achievement tests, and where the District of Columbia is situated on the graph.

disparities dcps nyt

This next plot shows where DC’s whites, hispanics, and blacks are situated on the graph (as well as for thousands of other school districts):

Disparities dcps wh blk his nyt

Notice that white students in DC’s public schools are nearly the wealthiest and highest-achieving group anywhere in the nation, while DC’s black students are very far behind in both income and achievement. DC’s hispanic students, to my surprise, are considered to be a bit above the middle of the income levels, but still rather far behind academically. (I actually rather doubt the data on those DC hispanic income levels, based on my own personal experiences with Hispanic families here in DC…)

An Interactive, Up-To-Date Map of World Conflicts

Remember when we used to see maps of what ISIS/ISIL/Daesh was up to in Syria and Iraq, every day? Or what the Russian and Ukrainian governments were up to?

Don’t think it’s over just because it’s not on the news. Those conflicts are still on-going.

I just found an online utility that shows what side is currently holding what territory, and what recent bombings or attacks or meetings or mass murders have taken place in the last day or so. It looks like it gets updated very frequently. I am sure that like eveybody else, whoever puts this out has a certain amount of biases, but it’s probably a more complete source of information on world conflicts than you are likely to find in any other news outlet I can think of.

The link is here.

With it you can select your preferred area of interest. Here is a screen shot from today (4/23/2016), focused on Syria and Iraq. You really do need the legend to figure out what is going on, since the conflicts are very complicated affairs that I am glad I am not living close to. Let me know if clicking on the image below enlargse it, and feel free to follow the link above.

middle east conflicts

Published in: on April 23, 2016 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The hard-to-kill lie that low-fat diets are good for you

In 1980, health authorities in the US and the UK issued food guidelines that urged people to eat less fat, less protein, less cholesterol, and more grains and other carbohydrate-rich foods.

People in general (including me) followed that advice, even though in hindsight it has become clear that there was absolutely no evidence that it would work. If you’ve been paying attention, 1980 was about the year that the problem of obesity became an epidemic in the US and in Great Britain. Proponents of a low-carb, higher-protein, low-sugar diet like John Yudkin or Robert Atkins were called all sorts of names by powerful figures in the American and British health establishments, in particular by Ancel Keys and his many acolytes. Yudkin in particular had is reputation besmirched, and Atkins was called a fraud.

Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, and Robert Lustig are some of the researchers and writers who have recently pointed out that the familiar low-fat hypothesis has no evidence whatsoever backing it up, and that there is lots of evidence contradicting it.

A few paragraphs from a recent article on this in the Guardian, which I urge you to read in its entirety:

Only in the last few years has it become acceptable to study the effects of Atkins-type diets. In 2014, in a trial funded by the US National Institutes of Health, 150 men and women were assigned a diet for one year which limited either the amount of fat or carbs they could eat, but not the calories. By the end of the year, the people on the low carbohydrate, high fat diet had lost about 8 lb more on average than the low-fat group. They were also more likely to lose weight from fat tissue; the low-fat group lost some weight too, but it came from the muscles. The NIH study is the latest of more than 50 similar studies, which together suggest that low-carbohydrate diets are better than low-fat diets for achieving weight loss and controlling type 2 diabetes. As a body of evidence, it is far from conclusive, but it is as consistent as any in the literature.


In 2008, researchers from Oxford University undertook a Europe-wide study of the causes of heart disease. Its data shows an inverse correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, across the continent. France, the country with the highest intake of saturated fat, has the lowest rate of heart disease; Ukraine, the country with the lowest intake of saturated fat, has the highest. When the British obesity researcher Zoë Harcombe performed an analysis of the data on cholesterol levels for 192 countries around the world, she found that lower cholesterol correlated with higher rates of death from heart disease.

In the last 10 years, a theory that had somehow held up unsupported for nearly half a century has been rejected by several comprehensive evidence reviews, even as it staggers on, zombie-like, in our dietary guidelines and medical advice.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, in a 2008 analysis of all studies of the low-fat diet, found “no probable or convincing evidence” that a high level of dietary fat causes heart disease or cancer. Another landmark review, published in 2010, in the American Society for Nutrition, and authored by, among others, Ronald Krauss, a highly respected researcher and physician at the University of California, stated “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD [coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease]”.

Many nutritionists refused to accept these conclusions. The journal that published Krauss’s review, wary of outrage among its readers, prefaced it with a rebuttal by a former right-hand man of Ancel Keys, which implied that since Krauss’s findings contradicted every national and international dietary recommendation, they must be flawed. The circular logic is symptomatic of a field with an unusually high propensity for ignoring evidence that does not fit its conventional wisdom.

Published in: on April 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Having Two Separate School Systems Is Wasteful

Peter Greene keeps making the point that having a charter school system along side a public school system is wasteful. One reason is that each system would need its own set of administrators. In Washington, DC, where nearly half of the students now attend charter schools, we now have MORE school buildings than we did when I was in junior high school just over 50 years ago, but only about HALF as many students — thus, a lot of unused space.

Inventing two separate school systems has done essentially nothing to reduce the score gaps between children from white, affluent families (living mostly in upper Northwest) and children from minority, poor families (living elsewhere). The segregation is not quite as awful as it was in the 1960s, but it’s pretty close.

Here is an excellent article from Valerie Strauss’ blog where a DC parent decries the waste, segregation, and general bass-ackwardness of what passes for ‘reform’ in the nation’s capital.

An excerpt:

“Two years ago, when I moderatedthe mayoral education debate, I gave each candidate a math problem:

“–In 1965, the District had 147,000 students and 196 schools. That’s [an average of] 750 kids per school.

“–In 2014, we had 85,000 students and 213 DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] and charter school buildings. That’s [an average of] 399 kids per school.

“That means we have half the kids that we had in the 1960s, and more buildings, many of them gravely under-enrolled. Yet, we still authorize up to 20 new charters per year, and an unclear number of DCPS new schools. Enrollment is flat. At what point do we match school growth with enrollment needs, geographic balance, and transportation planning in mind? At one point do we focus on using data to invest in and manage the schools that we have?”

She also describes

“…the scene I watch from my house near North Capitol Street. It’s straight-up racial apartheid. If I see white children walking to the parks, I knew they are from Mundo Verde or Inspired Teaching schools. The lack of white faces in a group of children makes me know the kids are from Langley, Harmony, or KIPP.”

Noam Chomsky on the 2016 Elections:

Chomsky is often right about things.

I reprint a couple of paragraphs from Chomsky’s recent interview which I found in Truthout, which says that Bernie Sanders’ positions on things like universal health care coverage and free public higher education are held by large majorities of the population, both right now and for many decades in the past.

On the remaining Republican candidates:

Q: Cruz and Rubio appear to me to be both far more dangerous than Trump. I see them as the real monsters, while Trump reminds me a bit of Silvio Berlusconi. Do you agree with any of these views?

A: (Chomsky) I agree – and as you know, the Trump-Berlusconi comparison is current in Europe. I would also add Paul Ryan to the list. He is portrayed as the deep thinker of the Republicans, the serious policy wonk, with spreadsheets and the other apparatus of the thoughtful analyst. The few attempts to analyze his programs, after dispensing with the magic that is regularly introduced, conclude that his actual policies are to virtually destroy every part of the federal government that serves the interests of the general population, while expanding the military and ensuring that the rich and the corporate sector will be well attended to – the core Republican ideology when the rhetorical trappings are drawn aside.

and on what we should do:

Q: Is America still a democracy and, if not, do elections really matter?

A: With all its flaws, America is still a very free and open society, by comparative standards. Elections surely matter. It would, in my opinion, be an utter disaster for the country, the world and future generations if any of the viable Republican candidates were to reach the White House, and if they continue to control Congress. Consideration of the overwhelmingly important questions we discussed earlier suffices to reach that conclusion, and it’s not all. For such reasons as those I alluded to earlier, American democracy, always limited, has been drifting substantially toward plutocracy. But these tendencies are not graven in stone. We enjoy an unusual legacy of freedom and rights left to us by predecessors who did not give up, often under far harsher conditions than we face now. And it provides ample opportunities for work that is badly needed, in many ways, in direct activism and pressures in support of significant policy choices, in building viable and effective community organizations, revitalizing the labor movement, and also in the political arena, from school boards to state legislatures and much more.

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 3:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Horrifying …

I’m sure most of my former students will tell you I was too strict and gave too much homework, but the chapter I hope you read on apparent abuses by a KIPP CEO at a school in California is absolutely horrifying. It was posted at Steven Krashen’s blog, Schools Matter.

Or click on this link:


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