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From: Japan and its standardized test-based education system By Kevin Burns

[At age 12] exam hell starts and from which students never really recover. The standardized test-based education system of Japan that starts in the junior high school years kills any kind of initiative, creativity and especially thinking outside of the box. Unfortunately, these last three are what Japan especially needs in the 21st century; perhaps Japan`s most challenging 100 years yet.

Let's just say that America decides to test its 17 year-olds in the areas of math, science and technology and decides to compare its results against other nation's students taking the same test. It's fair. It's objective and it's a good method for comparisons regarding educational rigor in the classroom and relative student abilities. Right? Well, it might be if the other schools were assessing their 17 year-olds too. But because of the wide range of student ages in other countries, they may very well be using the test scores of students up to age 21. I don't know about you, but I was a much better thinker and overall student when I was 20-21 than I was at 17-18. And I mean a lot better.

Now let's just say that a major testing company wants to compare the test scores of random American high school students and compare those scores to the random students in other nations using the same or similar test. It's fair. It's objective and it's a good method for comparisons regarding educational rigor in the classroom and relative student abilities. Right? Well, it might be if the populations of the samples are similarly random. But they aren't. A random sample from an American high school may include anyone of any ability and interest and motivation level. Not so in other nations in the world.

This international comparison doesn't work because most nations in the world select students out of the test sample before they ever reach the level that Americans would consider high school--much, much sooner in most countries. In many, if not most asian nations, a test is given typically at 7th-8th grade. Do well, continue on with your schooling. Don't, and your life options are few. In Germany, decisions are made for children at age 10, where they are divided into one of four tracks. Compulsory education ends at age 14. Japan and Germany are representative of the method most nations have for getting their best and brightest separated from the rest of the students. As a result, by the time international testing companies make their assessments, the top students in those countries are the only students available. Test only the top 10-20% of American students and then see how we stand.

I have given you two examples of why international comparisons of student testing is a false measurement and I haven't even mentioned poverty yet. Consider the following regarding the Program for International Student Assessment:

From: PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid

NEAToday published remarks from National Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director, Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi, that have taken "a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores on PISA compared with the rest of the world’s, overlaying it with the statistics on how many of the tested students are in the government’s free and reduced lunch program for students below the poverty line." Tirozzi pointed out, “Once again, we’re reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome.” Tirozzi demonstrates the correlation between socio-economic status and reading by presenting the PISA scores in terms of individual American schools and poverty.  While the overall PISA rankings ignore such differences in the tested schools, when groupings based on the rate of free and reduced lunch are created, a direct relationship is established.
Tirozzi and others have reviewed the PISA data and rightly concluded that if we only tested kids from schools with less than 10% poverty rate we would score above every other nation in the world. And that is significant because the nations that score above us have already selected out for ability, interest and motivation, as I mentioned above, and they also all have much lower poverty rates. Of all the nations tested by PISA, the United States has the highest student poverty rate. We are testing all students regardless of ability and we are testing more students in poverty than any other nation. (I wonder how many of us know that America has more students in poverty than any other nation in the world. That just doesn't seem to fit our idea of America, does it?)

So the next time you see an international test report where the U.S. scores 17th in math behind the Czech Republic, Norway and Finland, remember that if we were to test similar populations against other nations, we would rank number one in the world. This matters. It really does because if these are not our problems we shouldn't be wasting our energy and resources trying to fix them. We should be focused on the real issues not the false ones.

Originally posted to talktothemike on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 07:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  true (13+ / 0-)

    and many countries with poverty opt those kids from being students into factory work.

    our schools are mostly ok

    fact does not require fiction for balance (proudly a DFH)

    by mollyd on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 08:01:17 PM PDT

    •  I could not disagree anymore. (7+ / 0-)

      You can always come up with any results you want when you start selecting your high schools.  It is just not true that US high-schools are best.

      American high-schools do not ask students to do much in comparison with European high schools. Low expectations, low results. Let us select the top sample! Did Americans won International high-school competitions? No. Just check results for International Chemistry Olympiad ( How can you explain this?

      Real issue is low expectations. Real issue is labeling the subjects "hard and difficult". In Europe, math is presented as excellent tool that everybody needs to know. Nobody says that it is very hard and difficult. In Europe, they tell you on TV that the more languages you know, more important and better person you are. This labeling of science subjects in US as hard is the problem. This is so pervasive that I see US scientists apologizing for math in presentations to other US scientists who know that math!

      US high-school education sucks.  Bachelor education is similar to other western nations. US graduate college education is excellent.

      •  Let's not overgeneralize, either: (7+ / 0-)

        "math is presented as an excellent tool that everybody needs to know"  

        That is simply not the case--- in fact, it's the whole point of tracking.  

        Students as early as middle school head into vocational or academic tracks, and then, if in academic tracks, into scientific or humanities tracks.  Only in the scientific track is anything beyond low-level math explicitly essential, and necessarily taught.  

        The point is that students with aptitude for math and science do more of it, while students with aptitudes elsewhere do those things instead.  

        Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

        by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:33:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I totally disagree (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, Jakkalbessie, O112358, 1world

          Math and computer skills are essential to vocational education at least for anyone that would like to work in manufacturing.

          Personally, I suspect one of the reasons for the erosion of math skills in the US is the decline of manufacturing.

          You may not need much skill to punch the buttons of a cash register at Mac Donald's, but high tech and machine industries need people capable to do more.

          And why, in heaven's name, would you want to demote or discourage people from learning?

          Contrary to popular belief, ability to calculate does not inhibit creativity or quality of life.

          As I commented elsewhere, 5 vocational technicians work in my department and all came to the job with training in applied statistics, which is essential to their work.

          And in Europe I find the same thing; vocational grads have a solid foundation in applied math.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 10:10:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, but... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          the problem I see with my 2 kids in public schools here is that many teachers do present math as challenging. My kids are great at math (well, maybe only one but I cannot say that) but even the good ones think that math is hard. I myself have heard teachers present material that way, it DOES make a difference how a subject is presented. I end up teaching my kids at home a lot; homeschooling is not an option but I would do it if I could.

          I also see college kids who cannot do basic computation and they are science majors. There are good students but the average math knowledge in the US is abysmal and I think a threat to democracy. Math is a great tool to teach analytical and logical thinking skills which are essential in decision making and everyone should learn some basic math skills.

      •  I live in Malaysia (3+ / 0-)

        There is a love and respect for learning here that is infectious. It is part of the fabric here.
        The expectation is that everyone wants to learn and that learning is a feast of opportunity. It is a joyful and wondrous thing.

        Education and how to get it is one of the most common topics of newspaper articles. There are articles on every aspect of education from nursery school through graduate school.

        Students who do well can expect that they will be noticed and given public recognition. Those who come from poor backgrounds and who do well can expect to be seen as heroes who are rewarded for their hard work.

        It is expected that everyone will learn three languages: Chinese, English and Bahasa Malaysia. English is taught at a much higher level than the US. It is common to see what I call SAT words in everyday newspaper stories. Puns and plays on words that you would never see in a "serious" American newspaper are to be expected.

        I have not seen a reduction of creativity here, My husband works a man who was born on a rubber plantation, yet has gone on to be one of the world's leading genomic researchers.

        One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." -- Plato

        by Jane Lew on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 12:20:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I taught in two high schools in one of the small (5+ / 0-)

        central European nation which consistently out ranks us.  So I know something about it. First of all, they have a tiered system.  There are the equivalent of union apprenticeships that begin at about age 13.  YOu don't get the equivalent of a high school diploma for completing this kind of secondary education, but you do come out skilled for a job.  Then there are the so-called "industrial high schools".  You can go to college from one of these school and you get a general education, science, literature, foreign languages, history, etc. but also you are skilled in a trade, e.g. carpentry, HVAC tech, plumbing, etc.  Then there are the elite "gymnaziums" which are the college-prep high schools.  There are entrance exams to get into both industrial high schools and gymnaziums.  There are demanding entrance exams to get into universities.  If you don't qualify, you don't qualify.  And there is no back-up system of private colleges to go to if you don't make it into the elite national universities.  But parents understand that public schools can only do so much, because they are, well, public schools, i.e. engaged in mass education.  IFyou want more or better for your child, you have to buy it by way of private tutors and foreign educational experiences for language learning, for example.  They don't expect everyone to achieve at the same level.  They know they can't and or don't want to.  I taught in an industrial high school, construction trades, 95% boys, some bright enough to go to college by our standards, but not academically motivated.  I.e. not interested.  It's a fact.  NOt everyone wants to be the same thing, achieve the same goals, pursue the same interests.  People have the irritating habit of being themselves.

        "Feel free to be yourself – everyone else is taken." - Oscar Wilde

        by helfenburg on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 03:06:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I think this response is unfair (3+ / 0-)

        You can NOT come up with any response you want!  The interpretations might be different, but noting that the populations for testing is perfectly fair.  American high schools vary significantly. Some DO require and expect quite a a lot. And many do an excellent job.  State sponsorships, rules for the individuals competing, etc. also vary nationally for individual competitions such as olympiads.  But I note that from 1986 to 2012, the United States Physics Teams have brought home:

        46 Gold Medals
        33 Silver Medals
        29 Bronze Medals
        11 Honorable Mentions

        And they are asking for donations to send this years team!  Forgive me but though this may not be "dominating" the competition, it seems a long way from failing!

        If we wish to cast our educational system in the mold of those in asia and europe, the outcome will look similar.  This isnt necessarily bad, but one thing that the U.S. has consistently done well with is creative thinking and crossing disciplinary boundaries. We might want to think about improving our strong points as opposed to copying another country.

      •  US vs Europe (0+ / 0-)

        I went to a fabulous public high school in the US and now teach at a public school in Norway. The education I received in the US was, hands down, no questions asked, much, much better than what the students get here. OTOH, there are certainly hundreds of schools in the US that would rank lower than the schools here. The problem in the US is the huge disparity in quality.

        Also, "in Europe" is quite a generalization. I teach math and science and there's definitely an idea that these are hard subjects. I don't think this is just an American notion.

  •  I'm so tired of the US Education sucks myth. (20+ / 0-)

    There are valuable lessons to be learned form educational systems in other countries as there are valuable lessons other countries can draw from the US system.  All of that is masked by this insistence on these comparisons.  

    "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

    by newfie on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 08:07:13 PM PDT

    •  absolutely true (4+ / 0-)

      Couldn't agree more.

      •  1000 thank yous, tttm. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        organicus, Calamity Jean

        I've long wondered about this.  Whether we are comparing apples to oranges with this international comparisons.  Some of the kids thrown in the USA averages can't even speak the language they are being tested in.  This is the first time I've been able to read some substantive analysis of this issue.  

        Seems there are a few things in contemporary discourse that never get discussed: these apples to oranges test comparisons, the healthcare system charges too much and the higher ed system charges too much.  We always yammer about teachers and school budgets, about healthcare insurance and about student aid but we never, ever, go that next step.  It's a national blindspot.

        "The opposite of faith is not doubt. It's certainty."

        by Simul Iustus et Peccator on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 07:21:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's a lot of thank yous. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I just get tired of hearing how crappy we are all doing. Do things need fixing? Sure. But there's also a lot of good happening in education. Teachers are working their butts off. And where things are failing lets get to work solving things. But let's do it based on real research not the bogus stuff we've been fed. There is an interesting post by helfenburg above worth reading if you didn't see it.

          Glad I could be of assistance.

  •  also Asians educators (14+ / 0-)

    just a few years to learn how to produce creative students,

    Our Universities remain excellent, how could that be is our public schools were so bad?

    the truth fear, the upper classes want our system to produce more compliant workers.

    fact does not require fiction for balance (proudly a DFH)

    by mollyd on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 08:18:24 PM PDT

    •  Is there something wrong with that? (7+ / 0-)

      In many countries, including most Asian countries and, incidentally, Germany, there are 2 tracks after secondary school, academic and vocational, the first being a university preparation program, the second a technical/trade school program.

      In both cases, students get a mix of science and humanities, the difference being the more practical work & living skills orientation of the technical/trade program that leads to a 2 year vocational college verses 4 years + university program.

      Many Americans I have spoken with think this is selling the vocational group short, but it is rather the opposite, giving them marketable skills they can use to find a trade and earn a living, with "basic" skills (usually including higher math through basic calculus) that enable employer training to focus on job-specific skills rather than remedial education that is often the case in the US.

      Not everyone needs to attend a university or even makes good use of a university education once they get one, and failing to provide some students practical skills that prepare them for a productive life while lavishing "The World's Greatest University Education" on other seems to me more of a factor in creating class divisions.

      It would be great if there were unlimited resources to give every child unlimited choices, but that is simply not the case anywhere.

      Someone once said we should judge societies on how they treat the lower half (whatever) and I think it's just as valid to judge educational systems by how well they educate the lower half as well. Do these kids leave school with the skills to make it in life or not?

      I think that is the real issue.

      And why shouldn't companies want better workers and societies better citizens?

      In my department (mostly populated by engineers with MSc degrees or above) we have 5 technicians with Technical College certs and none have issues with basic skills, all have essential math and computer skills, and 2 are now pursuing BSc degrees because they want to improve themselves and found as young adults they have higher ambitions than they did as teenagers. I don't think there is anything unusual about that.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 11:15:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maybe not everybody needs to go to university (10+ / 0-)

        but they shouldn't be tracked out at age 10.

        •  They don't get "tracked-out" (4+ / 0-)

          The go on a vocational track to technical schools, and then depending on the country, into apprentice programs (typical in Europe) or company training programs (typical in Asia).

          There is a simple reason: there are not enough university seats for all and even if there was, not all would be well utilized.

          In a one track system you get winners and losers; in a 2 -track system there are two ways to win and support on both tracks.

          When people understand they have to compete for opportunity for higher education they tend to do so if they (or their parents) really care about it.

          Not everyone does or has to, and in fact, lots of teenagers have no idea what they want to do and may not have the motivation or confidence to pursue the university track, so how do you handle them equitably?  Force them into a situation where they fail or offer an opportunity to succeed?

          And missing the cut is not doom or the end of the world; as I noted, just in my direct reports with that background, 2 of 5 are now enrolled in BSc programs (which my company supports with flex hours and grants and I personally encourage people to pursue).

          This is very common in Asia. Many people return to school mid-20' to mid-30's to improve their skills or get a University diploma, and in Japan, Korea and China it's actually a way to get a promotion and a raise.

          And I have found, some people actually do best that way, leaving school to work until they mature a bit and find their way.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 10:48:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Any system that decides if a person (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            should be in a vocational school vs a traditional university at such a young age is simply flawed. You can justify it all you want, but if you put kids on a certain track they will tend to stay on that track, unless they are unusual. And they will have been assigned that track before anyone - themselves or their teachers or parents - can legitimately know if it is appropriate for them.

            You may have done well in that system, but that doesn't make it a system that works well for everybody.

            The american system allows students to pursue either vocational or college at any point in their educational career after about junior high school. That's not a "one track" system. It's a "whatever track works for you" system. Even an average public high school here has all of the choices - available for all the students.

            I'm not sure why you call students "losers" simply because they aren't forced onto a particular track. Are you assuming all American students are pushed toward college? If so, that's incorrect. American high schools have extensive tech/vocational programs. Students get to choose what they want to pursue.

            yes, Americans talk about college as if it's the only option, but it is absolutely not. Public high schools and community colleges have always supported vocational and technical training for those who want it.

            The problems with the American system largely come out of low wages for non-college professions. That's a serious issue, but in my view has nothing to do with the school system. It has to do with America's longstanding love affair with robber barons and their ilk.

            •  Not sure your conclusion follows, there. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ladybug53, O112358

              " if you put kids on a certain track they will tend to stay on that track, unless they are unusual."

              Currently, kids are on no track to anywhere, so they tend to stay on that track, unless they are unusual.

              And there is the problem in a nutshell.

              KoNko wasn't calling students "losers"... but reporting that American society calls them losers.  Which it does.  American education, and its standards, is set up with a singular pipeline--- to go to college.  Because, the conventional wisdom goes, only by going to college can you guarantee a decent, dignified livelihood.  You don't make it, you're a failure.  Plain and simple.  That's not me saying that, that's common.  

              You can currently opt out to a vocational program, yes, but when you do, everyone sees that choice as a signal that you can't hack it in basic school.  That you've failed to do the normal thing.  Oh, they might not say it out loud, but the stigma is there: "Guess you couldn't do any better..."

              Hell, even if you join the military, people cringe, even if it's something relatively safe like the Air Force (no offense).  Same story, only after high school.  Especially in the college-educated classes...

              As for the age issue, by age 14 or so it is very clear for nearly everyone whether they are on a college-prep level or not--- are they good in math, science?  Or literature or arts?  Most of us by then are good at maybe one side or the other, or neither. A few of us are good at all the subjects.  In other countries, there are high-quality exams that determine what you're good at (so that it's not down to the potential prejudices and foibles of counselors).  In the US, though, everyone plows ahead through their four years of college-oriented high-school work.  Unless they can't hack it.  

              Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

              by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 12:36:59 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Well, I totally disagree. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                lonespark, elfling, caul

                There is no way you know for sure if a student should go to college by 14. There is no "test" that magically figures that out, no matter how much some people convince themselves otherwise. I'm sure the scientologists can tell you what you're good for at that age too but I wouldn't buy it. Not to mention the entire arrangement defies any real results oriented testing, because you have no way of knowing which kids would have done better on the other track.

                 I counsel high school kids through a nonprofit right now. Many low income kids don't think college is for them until junior or senior year, just because their families have a lot of other stuff going on.  This is one reason why kids with high academics who are low income tend to go to less competitive colleges than they are capable of, too.

                Ultimately, if what you say is true - that you can figure out a kid's future at 14 - I would like to know why Harvard doesn't look at junior high transcripts instead of HS ones. After all, nothing after 14 should matter, right? Why not get those kids signed up early on a payment plan before they ever set foot in college?

                You seem to have a very negative view our educational system, of the military as a career option, and of vocational careers in general, so I think we'll disagree on all of that, too.

                •  The dark side of tracking... (3+ / 0-)

                  I currently have a graduate degree but was not on the college track while a kid. I was tracked as an "in-betweener" while in school. Good enough grades but never was ushered into the college prep classes. Joined the army right out of high school. It took 12 years until I was out of school to realize that I was college capable. Finally at 30 years old I decided I wanted an education.Got one.

                  My point, and yours too I think, is that kids get put into these boxes and it is very difficult to get out of them.

                  •  I feel like we could have better vocational (0+ / 0-)

                    programs. Sometimes, at least when I read about education in the newspaper, how many children go to college seems to be one of the prime criteria used to determine how well we're doing. On the other hand, I would feel better if the kids were allowed to choose the vocational programs because that's where their interests lay, not because they were put in to a box by teachers or school administrators. Since people frequently enjoy what they do well and do better when they enjoy something, a great number of kids might pick the right thing for themselves.

                  •  why is that a dark side? (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    It sounds like it worked--- you didn't go to college when you weren't ready, and you went when you were.  

                    Trust me, it's a far better alternative to going to college at 18 when you aren't ready for it, flunking out, and never going back because you know you've failed at it.

                    I currently teach at a university, and a major problem is trying to keep students from flunking out who clearly aren't ready yet , but who are in college at 18 because that's what you're supposed to do.  Even at "good" colleges, 4-year graduation rates are abysmal.  

                    Not only that, but if it turned out you never became or felt ready for college, you had already been taking an alternate path to success.  

                    Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

                    by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 07:22:49 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Jumping the track is difficult (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      I am sure I did much better in college at 30 than I would have done at 18. Oh hell yes!  But if I had been a prepared 18 year old I might have done just as well. I was just left out of the college track and college prep courses largely because my folks, and in a high school of 1500 I never actually had a conversation with a counselor about going to college. Don't misunderstand, I love the route I took to get here.

                      In the context of some bigger beliefs, I guess I'd just say the system fails a lot of folks and it doesn't need to. Like you said, kids go to "college at 18 because that's what you're supposed to do". That begs some other questions, like why do schools look just like they did 100 years ago? Why do we still have graded classrooms where we teach isolated subjects and courses? Never mind me, just rambling...

                      •  The thing is, the tracked systems are very diff. (0+ / 0-)

                        Very different... if we implemented a tracking system it wouldn't just be the current American system plus tracking (that would be a terrible idea).  The tracking itself is based on examinations that are given to every one in the class.  Counselors are not involved at all, and neither are parents... because the results you get on the exams determine your track.  

                        Moreover, the coursework prepares students for those exams (these, again, are not multiple-choice baloney tests, but real exams that test critical thinking, written and oral expression, and problem-solving skills.  And in many countries, PE as well.)

                        What I mean is that you wouldn't have been just left out of the college track; if you had the skills then it would have shown because your school would have given you the means to perform, and you would have performed on the exams.

                        This avoids the problem that is other people.  If your parents don't give a shit, or your counselor figures you're a bum, or your principal is tired of your antics... none of that matters if you kick ass on the exams (which are graded double-blind by teachers from other schools).  

                        Now, if you as a student are the one who doesn't give a shit, and you are a bum, and your antics keep you from paying attention, you will fail the exams, and be put onto a vocational track.  But it's also clear that whatever your schooling is like, you are not suited for it, and it is not suited for you.  Maybe in the future it will be, and that's fine.  But there's no point wasting one's time pursuing a failed track in the hopes that things will turn one day.  

                        Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

                        by nominalize on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 10:37:12 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Your post assumes... (0+ / 0-)

                          that all 17 year olds know what they want and respond accordingly. i would say that applies in some cases. Those who know about college and are directed that way by their parents or are lucky enough to have a mentor of some kind, are the ones who make those choices in high school that get them into the college track. That has more to do with family than testing.

                          But you also assume that the test is good enough to identify the college track. That is where I strongly disagree.The  standardized testing that occurs in school is anti-critical thinking, anti-arts, anti-creativity and anti-discovery. Bits of discreet information are highly valued while everything else is discouraged. I have been proctoring these tests for many, many years and feel confident in that statement.

                •  Why do they not look at JR High? (0+ / 0-)

                  Because they have enough paper work as is. Its useful but just not as useful as highschool and the SAT's so why look at anything if you have a slightly more accurate newer version (the HS grades)

                •  I have a question, decembersue (0+ / 0-)

                  Are you misrepresenting what people are writing on purpose, or is it a problem you have with reading comprehension?

                  There's nothing magic about testing students on their current aptitudes for the 8th-grade materials they've been taking, and figuring that it gives a good indication on how they'll do in 9th-grade and beyond.  Students who barely scrape by in basic algebra tend to do poorly in trigonometry.  Students who can't get French 1 to stick tend to do poorly in French 2.   It's not magic, it's understanding that not everyone is good at everything, and that we should focus our resources on maximizing the potential of every student, not just the ones who are already good at academic subjects.  

                  You mention that many students don't realize that a college track is right for them... well that's the problem solved by exams.  It wouldn't matter if talented kids didn't realize they were good at college; their talent will show, and they'll be put into the college track.  Instead of realizing their talent when it's too late, they'll realize it earlier because they found out they had what it takes.  How is that problematic, exactly?  

                  The reason why colleges don't look at middle school records and ignore high school records is twofold.  One is that only Republican-level stupidity would lead someone to ignore a superset of available data.  The second is that not everyone who shows college potential at 14 still has it at 18, while people who don't have at 14 don't magically get it by 18.  Are there exceptions to that generalization? Sure.  That's why you can change tracks if you want, so long as you pass the entrance exams to prove you're capable.  It's still far better than trying to force everyone through the same pipe.

                  Besides, your slippery slope argument is not only fallacious, it doesn't even hold its own water.  By your same reasoning, colleges shouldn't even look at a student's high school record, but should wait another 10 years or so, maybe longer.  I mean, how many 18 year olds really know what they want?  Judging from the real fact that most college students only pick a major because they're forced to, and that many go through several majors because they have no idea what they want to do or what they're capable of, do you suggest we forbid students from entering college until they're 25, maybe?  Give them some time to figure things out?  

                  Finally, you are living in a bubble if you don't believe that American society vastly looks down upon manual and vocational work, even if it's better paid and more secure than what a college degree can get you.  The fact is, our one-size-fits-all education system promotes this disdain, because it sets up a college-or-loserville dichotomy.  Re-orienting our education system towards the reality of multiple paths to success not only breaks that dichotomy but helps students find careers that fit their interests and talents.

                  You are also living in a bubble if you cannot discern the attestation of that fact from advocacy for it.  Like I said, there are only two options here--- you are twisting our words, or you are misreading them.  Either one is a disservice to yourself and this thread, and I suggest you do otherwise.

                  Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

                  by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 09:47:29 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Actually, no it doesn't.... (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Teiresias70, lonespark, elfling

              In Tennessee and other Common Core states, the vocational tracks are disappearing. In Tennessee to get a high school diploma you must have:

              1. Four years English
              2. Three years of science--one muse be chemistry or physics--Bio 2 or A & P do not count for 3rd year.
              3. Four years of math and you must take one every year, so even if you wanted Alg. II and Pre-Cal in Junior year, you'd still have to take another math your Senior year. You must pass Alg 1, Alg 2 and geometry and either an advanced math  such as calc, trig or pre cal OR what is called bridge bath aka ACT prep math
              4. 2 years of foreign language
              5. 1.5 years of PE
              6. 2 social studies
              7. 1 fine art--art history, drafting, theatre design etc. do not count
              8. Econ and government--9 weeks each
              9. Personal Finance-9 weeks
              10. And a concentration of three courses in one area, which can be a vocational track (but you can't have Accounting and Database, for example, because they're in different business tracks) or another area of concentration such as theatre, social studies, or whatever elective focus schools are able to offer.

              There are exceptions made for special ed students and those who have such scheduling problems that they can't take Spanish, for example, because it would mean missing English 3. Few and far between.

              There is no option for students who want to get on a track for auto technology, for example, and take maths or sciences that might be better suited for them.

              Class of 2012 was first to be under these guidelines. At our school, the dropout rate for 2013 is going to increase by 30 or 40 percent.

              I'm certainly not saying that high standards aren't important--I think for a college-bound student, that plan is certainly valid. Leaving out the kids who want to go to tech school and become diesel mechanics or dental technicians, though, is frustrating. We make them fill out career plans from 8th grade on and test them 3x with various ACT tests, then the ASVAB and PSAT...all of which emphasize career planning and readiness. Then we make a kid who wants to take over his family's farm take a math class that is either designed to improve his ACT score or trig. It makes no sense.

              We are spending a fortune creating AP class after AP class, but no one seems to care that we can't have electives such as speech anymore because there aren't enough teachers to teach them.

              It's very frustrating.

            •  Not much time for a long resposne (0+ / 0-)

              but "should be in a vocational school vs a traditional university at such a young age is simply flawed."

              That should read " Any system that does NOT decide if a person should be in a vocational school vs a traditional university a young age is simply stupid."

              Its rather evident at the earliest of grades which students are going to be successful and which ones are not. Stop kidding yourself and wasting everyone time otherwise.

              This reminded me of the saying "If you are sitting in a room and you cant point out who the patsy is..... its you."

              •  If you are an educator (0+ / 0-)

                shame on you. If you aren't one, I will forgive your ignorance.

                It is absolutely not "evident at the earliest of grades which students are going to be successful and which ones are not". To say so is frankly quite horrible. An educator's job--especially at the earliest of grades--is to help them all be successful and keep as many doors open as possible because we simply do not know how and when certain young children will develop.

          •  This is an intersting argument. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            radical simplicity

            "In a one track system you get winners and losers; in a 2 -track system there are two ways to win and support on both tracks."

            I have generally agreed with decembersue on this issue. However I am still troubled by the fact that the American education system fails so many kids. I developed and taught in a highly experimental school that used an entirely different model of teaching/learning that was based entirely on student interests and needs. They drove the curriculum and I developed it.

            Tracking was in some ways a moot point because every child was in their own track--25 kids, 25 tracks.

            Getting back to the line you wrote that I really like, I would say that the more tracks we develop the more we are meeting the needs of students and the more "winners" we have.

      •  The main issue I have is the age (4+ / 0-)

        when the decision is made, and its irrevocability.

        A strong vocational program is a strength, and it's something Americans could do better. But conversely, a strength of the American system is that it is never too late for you to go back to college and change careers.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:19:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I fully agree, koNko (5+ / 0-)

        Given our current system, vocational school means you failed at real school, and are thus a loser and will always be one.  We don't say it out loud, but the sentiment is there.   Indeed, the whole reason we have an education debt crisis is the notion that it's worth it to go up to your eyeballs in college debt to avoid a vocational job.  

        Once we step outside our cultural prejudices, we see that it's very obvious that most jobs in the real world, even many great careers, do not need a university-based education, and that pushing everyone into the same pipeline is short-serving those whose aptitudes lie elsewhere.   With our current system, we act like there is one route to success.  And since we don't see valuable options to that one route, we bend over backwards to shove students through the pipe.  That's why grade inflation is so rampant---  it's either graduate or flip burgers, so we graduate 'em.

        As for the early age/irrevocability issues, those are easily fixed; in Europe the tracks are not irrevocable (though you do have to play catch-up), and the fact of the matter is that by 12-14 it is pretty clear whether or not a student is good at or interested in academic subjects.  This is evidenced by the nearly zero people who feel like they ended up on the wrong track.  

        Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

        by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:40:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I know people (6+ / 0-)

          here in the UK who completed university degrees having gone to a vocational secondary school. Many still have chips on their shoulder about attending those vocational schools. The UK doesn't have that particular differentiation at this point. Now success is measured by whether or not your parents can send you to private school or not. This is the model the Americans are aiming for, and the comparative testing results are meant to show how poorly Americans do compared to others elsewhere. This is part of the scheme to privatise all most all of American education, at least for the students whose parents will scrimp and save to participate.

          "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

          by northsylvania on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 09:08:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  But it should not be. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, lonespark

          I do understand what you are saying about the stigma attached to vocational schools in the USA and that failing to get a college degree becomes a black mark.

          But that's actually a sort of class-based arrogance people should reconsider.

          And I agree that in Europe and Asia, taking the technical track is not an irrevocable decision, but quite to the contrary, many companies (including my employer) actually encourage employees to upgrade their skills and pursue higher education because it improves their ability and value to a company.

          What I learned living in the US was that most of the mid-career education is people with a BSc or BA pursuing Master's degrees, with a smaller number of people who did not graduate High School getting certs (GED's?).

          But it takes a brave person to enter a Bachelor's program after mid-20's.

          This should not be. Society needs to redefine education as a long-term proposition and I hope that the internet facilitates that. MIT's open university program is fantastic and the response has been overwhelming, people out there want to learn.

          I think Obama gets this.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 11:06:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It shouldn't be this way... (0+ / 0-)

            but the stigma is there.   I think that our one-size-fits-all system contributes to that stigma, so a strong step towards eliminating it (or lessening it) is to remove the one-size-fits-all system.

            Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

            by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 12:26:32 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed- a 2 track system is not necessarily bad (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Having a vocational track is not a bad thing at all. The US also does this- via the community colleges and the armed forces. A lot of technicians now working in the industries were trained by the armed forces. But for some reasons, the vocational track is disappearing from the high schools.

        Now where the aisan system falls on its face is that- within the academic track, students are frequently further divided into the math/science track and the arts/language track. And unfortunately, the former are the top performing students, and the latter are the students who couldn't make it into the math/sciences. So this is terribly stigmatizing for the arts tracked students.

        •  I agree with you 100% (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          First, that Asian schools tend to dictate what programs University students get channeled to and also the which universities students get channeled to. This absolutely describes the system in China when I went through, and although the system is changing, still pretty much the case for higher performing students (ironically, the second tier students attending "Normal" universities get more choice - less precious I guess).

          Shit, when I was a student our high school teachers made most of our life decisions and had higher status than parents (still somewhat the case as my daughter starts to quote the authority of her teacher, LOL).

          I think the basic reason for this has been the chronic shortage of university seats in Asia, which is beginning to change as societies become more affluent, something that might be difficult for some Americans to understand given the glut of universities. In Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore the rate of U attendance is now actually quite high.

          And you are also correct about the role of the military and community colleges in the USA. When I was working their, my favorite boss was an ex-Marine who advised me that if someone made it through the service, at least they can (a) follow instructions and (b) tolerate pressure, and I found that to be true; a lot of the techs we had were from the service and pretty well trained.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 11:26:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Sorry, I misread one thing (7+ / 0-)

      You said compliant workers. First time I read competent workers. My error.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 01:30:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  and yet that is the salient point: dumb them down (3+ / 0-)

        for cannon fodder.

             We used to be a system that did track students for Voc-Ed vs. college. Then we decided to mix abilities in the classes thinking it would bring up the bottom students and be good for all, but finding instead that it brought down the top, in my experience anyway.
             The "quality of education" also varies widely even across local areas. There are great schools and wonderful teachers everywhere.
             I am simply agreeing with the statement

        the truth fear, the upper classes want our system to produce more compliant workers.
        because I think that if the well-off people really desired an educated population, they could/would spend "extra" money on it, just because they wanted it.

        Same thing with healthcare: we could have wonderful healthcare for everyone (and i am not arguing that rich people are not giving- I'm just seeing that these People-known-as-Corporations are collecting huge "profits" without being required to give back- in fact we tax-payers subsidize them when we don't require an actual living wage.)

        If rich people loved everyone and wanted them all to be healthy they would be spending their money on it.

        If we really want to be stewards of the planet, we really could be...

        Act Locally, Think Globally, Love Universally.

        •  In America... (7+ / 0-)

          ...where it is all against all, then you have a BA/BS(at least) or you are cannon fodder.  In social democracies with two tracks, there is also a value on quality of life -- for everyone.  Which is not to say there is not inequality -- there is, but it distributes differently.

          If your society has a real floor, then you can make many pragmatic choices.  We seem to be all about either getting to the top (you can have an M.D.!  And be President!) or telling a lot of lies to ourselves about just how harsh failure will be.

          ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

          by jessical on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 07:39:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  mixing them all together (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, nuclear winter solstice

          I am a retired teacher and taught in a school that was a Title I school and at one time we were allowed to mix all the different levels of students together.

          Based on the level of work they did, they could receive a regular weight or honors weight to their grade.  It was more work on the teacher to prepare for these lessons....more guide on the side than sage on the stage teaching but it was great to see students decide for themselves to try the harder activities.

          Many times the harder activities required critical thinking, synthesis and so on and some of these students could move out of simple rote memorization and handle this in the most amazing ways!

          •  I went to a public high school that got rid of (0+ / 0-)

            tracking due to racial issues. I don't think it injured the more academically inlined students as much as parents worry that it will. I felt pretty well prepared when I got to college, even in comparison to students that had gone to fancy prep schools.

  •  Yup, I've long thought this too (5+ / 0-)

    I remember there was some TV news program that did a story like this a couple of years ago, giving the same test to 16-17 year olds in an average American high school and the same test to kids of the same age in some other country. I can't remember the other country, though it was a European (maybe Scandinavian) country, but what the TV program didn't tell you is that students in that country are separated at about age 14, just like in Germany, England and many other places. Kids who are not seen as going on to a selective 4-year college are put into non-academic instruction or apprenticeships and often leave school at 16 . They're comparing the cream of the crop from other countries to an average high school class in the U.S. The comparison would be fair if they tested say, our honors or A.P. class students.

    I'm a dyslexic agnostic insomniac. I lie awake at night wondering if there's a dog.

    by rennert on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 08:49:40 PM PDT

    •  What you need to understand (6+ / 0-)

      Is in many of these countries (I happen to live in one) the vocational programs include basic academic subjects including higher math, but with a more practical than college-prep orientation.

      And at least where I live (China) everyone gets tested every year to advance and anyone who graduates from a K-10 has at least ability to pass an algebra exam, something that can't be said for a lot of American students.

      Our "cream of the crop" is the majority of students that now attend K-12 (exception would be poor rural areas) so I don't think you offer a valid explanation for the gap in test scores.

      But perhaps I can give you one. Education is highly prized and somewhat competitive, and out kids get pressure (and support) in school and at home, and I think it's the latter that makes the greater difference.

      Asian kids are expected to bring home work and study, and if they don't, parents think something is wrong and will pressure schools.

      If there is a criticism to be made it would be there is too much pressure, not neglect, which is often the case in the US.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Sun Oct 21, 2012 at 11:30:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  nobody is dumbed down (7+ / 0-)

      in Scandinavia at least. I speak from first hand experience: I have an (MBA) husband born and educated there; 2 children who began schooling there,and taught for a few years in their university system.
      First, the separation, as you all call it, begins at about age 14-15.  It is based primarily on the student's interests.  And Finnish technical colleges, or commercial colleges, rival some american universities.  They are just specialized and not "liberal arts" schools.  My husband speaks 5 languages (Finnish, English, Russian, German and Swedish), and his "commerical college degree in Economics qualified him for an MBA program here.  BTW, he also got the highest grade in American History in his one year of exchange while in Michigan.  So, it's a far cry from what you might think of vocational training.  They also sort out engineering students, etc.  
      Secondly, the key components are: value childhood; value teachers; value independence in learning.  And, a social structure that supports parents and parenting, health care and financial stability.  

      •  Yes, I know two Europeans with engineering (0+ / 0-)

        backgrounds, one French and one German, and they also got separated from people headed for the liberal arts. On the other hand, both have told me at some point that they have felt that Americans are more well rounded. Whenever I would make a reference to French literature to my French friend would testily say to me, "Don't you get it. We're not taught that in school." My German friend has mentioned noticing that American programmers he meets are often more knowlegable about things like art, literature and philosophy. At the same time, he is perfectly aware that many advances in computer science have been made by Americans.

  •  We should focus on poverty and other ills (12+ / 0-)

    of society. In most the other nations tested children all have access to medical care and the safety net is much more secure than in the U.S.

    The constant refrain about our "failing schools" just serves to tear down the institutions of public education and do nothing to improve the situation. If our K-12 system is as bad as assumed, then why does the rest of the world deem our colleges superior? Most of our college students are from our public schools.

    In communities with little or no poverty the schools score very high. Not all those schools have fantastic teachers, and the low-scoring schools are not filled with weak teachers. Much of the disparity stems from unequal resources in the schools, the communities, and the homes.

    It has been said that education is the civil rights issue of this century. So far I have only heard it as a platitude and have seen no movement to fix the real problems facing our families and our communities. Income disparity impacts too many sectors of our economy.

  •  I think you have 2 issues here (6+ / 0-)

    Let's take poverty first. I'm certain this is the more critical issue because many poor kids not only attend schools that lack resources, but do not have the support system outside and at home that can be a more critical factor in success.

    Hungry kids don't learn as well. Neglected kids (and I mean neglected in fact if not by choice since their parents might not have any time) certainly will not do as well either because it takes nurturing and pressure by parents to develop study skills, interest and motivation to learn.

    So I think we are in agreement there.

    Now let's consider the difference in educational systems and culture.

    No system is perfect. East verses West have things to learn from each other. So why do some systems produce better test scores (and by extension, better ability in the areas tested)?

    There are a lot of reasons, but I think the main one is simply  that in systems where testing is the method to advance, kids (and teachers) get focused on that goal and get regular practice, so tend to excel at taking tests (which requires, contrary to some assumptions, not just cramming knowledge but developing study habits and focusing attention, which are skills that can be learned).

    Having gone though a traditional Asian system and then attending an American university, what I noticed is that Asian students simply try harder and study more (to make a broad generalization as far as that goes). This is a matter of habit.

    I also accept the argument we can do this to a fault, putting too much pressure on kids and sometimes putting them in  too narrow a channel, but I TOTALLY REJECT the assertion I often read in Western media and blogs (including your diary) that Asians are uncreative or incapable of independent thinking, just as I reject the idea American students "can't do math" or could not do better on tests if they had more training.

    In fact, the hand-wringing article you cited is simply the Asian side of this debate about "method". These days, American parents obsess about the failure of Johnny to compete on testing. Asian parents obsess that Johnny can't think (while they supervise the cramming).

    Both are right and wrong. I think there is a middle road where testing is important but not everything, so my mission here would be to talk people back from the cliff where they are so polarized against testing that they think it is THE PROBLEM. It is not.

    Tests are important because they measure progress on some important things, and are also an important means to decide upon academic advancement and admissions.

    And the proof of it, is if I want my daughter to attend an American university she will not only have to pass 12 years of exams in China, but also score reasonably high on SAT and TOFEL or she won't get the chance. Some things have to be proven or verified, and I would not want her to attend such a university if she couldn't pass the tests because that would mean she was not prepared to succeed and likely fail.

    And the same goes for life. If kids attend school for 12+ years and can't score reasonably well on basic academics, then either they haven't learned what they need (for life) or they are so poor at taking tests they need more practice and coaching.

    I'd also like to comment on a cultural issue that seems to be misunderstood in the West.

    Asians have a history of "cramming" for some simple and basic reasons:

    - Asian written languages require a higher degree of memorization and skill to master and retain. Therefore, from primary onward, development of study habits and ability to memorize is essential to becoming literate, and without that, you don't get educated. Even computers don't change that because, unless you learn the rather complex systems and build written vocabulary, you do not gain literacy (USA has a literacy rate of 99%, China 92%, but the difference getting there is 26 letters verses 5,000+ characters).

    - Asian societies (particularly China, Korea and Japan) developed educational and governmental systems, including standardization, many centuries ago, with "classical education" as a cornerstone. The plus is that Asians value education greatly as both a practical tool and a personal/social achievement. The minus is sometimes it's harder to change the system since they are national systems, so this is where we can learn a bit of flexibility from the West, where educators have innovated more (sometimes with bad results).

    But in either direction, I don't see a lack of people with ability to think, reason or create, provided they get the opportunity and the tools.

    Lastly, I read here people bemoaning the fact some systems divide students on vocational or academic tracks after secondary school. One simple response:

    This is not a problem if both get EDUCATED and equipped with skills they need to make it in life, and any system that fails to do that is a problem however it i organized.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 01:00:57 AM PDT

    •  I've seen some really interesting theories (0+ / 0-)

      that suggest the strong memorization required to learn Chinese versus the crazy exceptions all over English language affect brain structure and learning style in math and science and other fields as well. IE: that learning the Chinese language makes memorization more natural; but, similarly, the wacky nature of English and the ability to verb nouns and all the dumb things we routinely do makes thinking outside the box and rulebreaking somewhat more natural.

      (Both obviously have their strengths and weaknesses, but it would be kind of interesting if it wasn't anything related to the school system per se after all our collective handwringing on both sides of the Pacific.)

      I don't know if it holds up, but neurology is awfully interesting and still very much opaque to our understanding.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 12:18:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree about the importance of strong vocational (0+ / 0-)

      tracks and think that even our academically-oriented kids would benefit from more and earlier exposure to the use of academic subjects in the Real World.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 12:20:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  On re-reading (7+ / 0-)

    I want to underline something.

    It seems your argument with comparative testing is that the sampling in some countries is selective (i.e., assumed to be university track, if that is the case).

    My thoughts (sorry if some are repeating):

    Now you know the problem comparing apples and oranges!

    I guess we'd both like to know what would happen if we had the mean of each total population, but why may be different.

    Frankly speaking, despite your protestations, you seem to be very focused on the competitive aspect and proving the US system would be best.

    But what I'd like to know, is what the distribution would look like and how would that correlate to economic distribution.

    My expectation (based on personal perceptions alone) is that we would find the distribution in the USA less normal than in some other countries and that there would be some correlation to economic class as that is a general situation in the world, but more pronounced in some countries than others (and offset by social values or policy in certain cases, e.g., some relatively poor countries with high education levels).

    No one doubts that some of the world's best universities are in the US (I worked pretty hard to gain admission to one) but the issue may be with the K-12 system that feeds into it.

    One of my colleagues is from Finland. They seem to have some enlightened ideas about both social welfare and education, and although they don't have many top-ranked universities (it's a small country) they do have a very high rate of attendance (virtually anyone that passes an entrance exam can enter an undergrad program), 100% literacy rate and generally high relative status.

    So I'd presume their test score distribution would be a lot flatter than either the USA or China, and in practical terms, be a higher ranked system.

    As I suggested elsewhere, we should judge systems on how they treat the lower half, the upper half tends to take care of itself.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 01:29:04 AM PDT

    •  Addenda (7+ / 0-)

      I went tracking back through the PISA article you linked to some other articles and found this interesting explanation about how Finland scores so well, which seems to agree with my colleague's comments (we have discussed education a lot as I am now his outside PhD sponsor!).

      Finland is fortunate to have a relatively small population and high-middle income but low Gini Index, so does not quite struggle with some of the problems countries such as the US or China have to deal with (including high Gini Index). So I'm curious what would happen if we were to emulate them and throw testing out the window.  I'll  guess it would work for the rich and not for the poor, IOW, the "nurturing" approach requires - surprisingly - nurturing. But I do find their ideas quite enlightened and interesting.

      I also played with PINI the numbers in the analysis you linked (i.e., the Tirozzi analysis) to the extent it possible without the raw source data or the factors Tirozzi applied.

      While I actually agree with their general thesis, I think Riddile is as guilty of Mark Twain's complaint as those he points fingers at, namely, picking statistics to fit his thesis.

      Tirozzi and Riddile want to call the US a "special case" that is "not normal", and obviously I agree since I made the assumption that if we had full population distribution I'd expect the US to be "less normal" a distribution than some others.

      But suggesting, but for some poor folks, the US system is "better" is kind of a stretch. Not that I object to his making such an argument to reach a desired end, mind you, but I wouldn't reach such a conclusion.

      BTW, I live in Shanghai and my daughter is on track (we hope!) to one of the high ranking schools excluded from the study, and I can tell you kids there study hard but are still pretty much teenagers and not automatons.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 02:27:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for your responses.. (5+ / 0-)

        Anyone who reads this will benefit from your comments.

        My original intent in this post was to point out not necessarily the folly of international testing, but rather the misuse of the data. What troubles me is the kind of decisions the politicians are making to "fix" our problems. Bad information leads to bad decisions.

        I think that everyone who examines the American system can agree that we are not meeting the needs of a large segment of our students. A 30% drop out rate testifies to that. Policy makers tend to take our dropout rate as a reason to double down on more testing--one of the very things that drive students to drop out in the first place.

        I have never been a champion of "tracking" students at the lower grade levels. At some point however, interest, motivation and ability needs to drive curriculum options for students. America can learn a lot from other nations in this regard.

        •  that 30% drop out rate (4+ / 0-)

          isn't what it looks like, either.

          For example, a high school here in the Twin Cities has a 50% dropout rate that is widely reported in the media.

          But when you look closer, you find that 90% of students at that high school graduate within 6 years. We just define "drop out" as being someone who does not graduate within 4 years, which is kind of silly given students today have drastically more requirements to take if they want to go on to college or even just to graduate at all than they did in the 60's.

          That school is 25% sped and 90% poverty. To me their numbers are actually quite impressive given what they're working with. But these kids will be punished on college applications for having taken that amount of time to graduate, even though they did the same work.

          This is another way of illustrating what I think is the basic point of the diary: that we can very easily "skew" numbers to make our schools look worse than they are, if we want to. And unfortunately a lot of people do want to do exactly that. There is so much desire to punish the poor.

          •  drop out rate (2+ / 0-)

            At the school where I taught in Austin, Texas the drop out rate was partially determined by ...when a student left the school and there was not a request for the records to be forwarded to another school.  This student was considered a drop out from that particular school.

            Since the school was Title I, large number of students living with relatives from foreign countries who would return home with their relative before graduation, and other factors, we had a large dropout rate that did not reflect the totally true picture.

        •  Thanks for your Diary (0+ / 0-)

          I found it, and the articles you linked quite interesting and worth discussion.

          And again, we are in agreement with the basic economic and social problems that underly the situation, and unfortunately, there is nothing unique about the US in this regard; inequality is more the rule than exception.

          Equality tends to promote meritocracy and raise the mean.

          I'm all for that. Fairness is important.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 11:47:41 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  My concern is that in our zeal to (5+ / 0-)

        make things better, that we will actually tear down the parts of our system that are working well and replace it with something that does not benefit kids at any level.

        For example, one thing that I observe for at-risk kids in difficult family situations is that they benefit from long term relationships with caring adults. Two of the right-wing solutions, Teach For America and the plan to remove teachers whose students score poorly, directly undermine those relationships by replacing long term teachers with short term teacher churn and call it an improvement. This isn't done with regret at some possible cost; there is no recognition that increased turnover itself is costly.

        At-risk kids, in my judgement, benefit especially from field trips and project based learning and a rich curriculum. But the reformers looking at international test scores want to take that away from the kids who are not successful and put them in a second wholly academic math class instead - doubling down on the part of the student's day that isn't working for them.

        So in my mind, the point isn't that American schools are the best in the world or that they can't be better. The point is that they can be much much worse, and that there is much good going on inside American schools that would be tragic to lose, and this is true in schools serving all socioeconomic levels.

        On the other hand, there are some truly dreadful things going on in American schools, too. Every classroom should have a working heat and air conditioning system appropriate to the climate. Every classroom should have a weatherproof roof and be clean and free of water damage and pests. This is the first place we fail our kids in some communities; it's no wonder that teachers don't want to work in schools like that or that kids don't learn well in those environments. Where is the national movement to ensure all schools have adequate facilities?

        That we're going to spend millions of dollars trying to figure out which Kindergarten teachers to fire by administering standardized tests to 4 and 5 year olds while those same kids are expected to learn in classrooms with temperatures exceeding 90 F is incredibly frustrating.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 09:15:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  absolutely on target (2+ / 0-)

          So much of what you said is sooooo true.  My last two years of teaching, another program was implemented.  The school was divided into "houses" based on what electives the students had chosen.

          As a result, the student had at least 4 out of 7 of the same teachers and we could work together when a student was having problems.  What a concept.  We also had field trips that were house oriented and will received by the students.

          As silly as this sounds, we gave out awards each grading period, for all sorts of things...most improved, improvement in attendance and so on.  We invited parents and they showed up in record numbers and some of the students said this was the first time they had been recognized for anything!  So many of them for the first time felt they belonged to the school instead of just marking time.

  •  How can you possibly know this? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ManhattanMan, jessical, FG, FloraLine, zinger99
    So the next time you see an international test report where the U.S. scores 17th in math behind the Czech Republic, Norway and Finland, remember that if we were to test similar populations against other nations, we would rank number one in the world.
    I suspect with truly representative testing, the USA wouldn't do all that well by international standards no matter how the results were finangled.

    Which is fine insofar as there are still plenty of top students produced in this country to supply our great universities.

    It is much less fine insofar as those who don't make it to that level DO tend to lag behind - far behind - their peers in other "first world" countries.  That is simply unacceptable - but can't really be solved without changing the mindset in this country massively.

    •  Data suggests (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy, Jakkalbessie

      that poverty is one of, if not THE leading indicator of test score success. The correlation is too strong to discount. Nations with lower poverty rates do much better nationally. America educates more poor children than any other nation and so our scores are going to be lower. Again, test scores from American schools with a less than 10% poverty rate (rare by the way in US schools) place highest in the world. On an even playing field (as far as test results are reported) American students do just fine. To support that argument we might want to remember that most patents applied for still come from the U.S.

      I honestly don't know if America's lower end students and dropouts "tend to lag behind - far behind - their peers in other "first world" countries" but think that would make an interesting study.

      •  No - not necessarily (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Again, test scores from American schools with a less than 10% poverty rate (rare by the way in US schools) place highest in the world.
        Because of what you also said in this blockquote:
        Again, test scores from American schools with a less than 10% poverty rate (rare by the way in US schools) place highest in the world.
        IOW, you are comparing a small elite group of US students with a national cohort of "peers" - that makes me very queasy.

        What really needs to be done is say how rare this is in the USA (5%, maybe?) and then compare that cohort with the top 5% achievers in the other industrialized countries - not the entire country.

        Having said that, I'm totally on board with the idea that poverty is the number one driver of doing well (or not) on test scores in the USA but it's not the only factor to be sure.  

        •  the national cohort (4+ / 0-)

          is the point I am trying (not to well, I'm afraid) to make. Only the US actually tests a national cohort. The tests measure the US national cohort against other nations who have already selected students who will do well and they test only those students.

          •  OK, that's an interesting point (3+ / 0-)

            In any event, in the bigger picture, the whole testing mania that this diary is premised upon needs to be done away with (something I suspect that you might agree with - even though in a way diaries like this ironically enough serve enable it . . .. ).

            You mentioned patents, and yes, the US still does quite well in that regard.  But somehow I suspect that coming up with a lot of patents and doing well on test scores are two things that are quite uncoupled.

            For example, I was talking to the chairperson of the chemistry department of a mid-range state university a few years ago lamenting how our students could possibly compete with the much better prepared students from Asia (the context was the large number of Asians in the PhD program in question, as well as many others).

            He wasn't particularly troubled, reporting how his department attracted the very best Asian students (because it's difficult to get into the USA, they'll happily go to a second tier school) but only mid-range Americans (the very best would opt for MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, etc not his school).  

            Anyways, his point was that the mediocre Americans did just as well in research, basically because they totally disrespected authority.  i.e., an Asian student would go do exactly what his or her PI told him or her to do, or would go follow a published procedure exactly.  By contrast, the American was much more likely to say "fuck that, I can do that experiment a different/better way" - which is really the best way for patents/innovation/etc to come about.

            But that attitude -  while taking a standardized test - probably wouldn't result in quite such a glowing outcome.

          •  Actually, that point is kinda rebutted (0+ / 0-)

            by the methodology for student selection given by the organization:

            How are schools selected for participation? In PISA, each country is represented by a small sample of schools and students selected to reflect its population and educational contexts and provide valid estimates of student achievement. Schools in the PISA U.S. sample are sampled from a list of all schools in the United States enrolling 15-year-old students. The selection method ensures that the U.S. participants accurately represent the whole United States, not just particular types of schools or students. Other countries use the same approach so that no single country will have an advantage over another in terms of the schools or students being assessed.
        •  The point is that all the other countries in (0+ / 0-)

          the comparison have a national poverty rate for kids well under 10%.

          This is an excellent in-depth discussion of the international test score data and the influence of American poverty on our scores from Gerald Bracey:

          So the answer for us isn't that our teachers suck; it's that our kids are in poverty and in many cases suffering from PTSD. Testing the kids more often and using that data to fire teachers will not change this essential fact.

          Obviously, what we really need to do is to ensure that every American child attends a school with less than 10% of its students in poverty. But you can't do it with vouchers, because we don't have enough kids living above the poverty line.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:31:53 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  It's kind of horrifying to me that we think of (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          < 10% poverty as being some sort of elite class, or that it would be rare to have a school with that composition.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:54:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I dunno, I was just repeating what the diarist (0+ / 0-)

            had said (but w/o providing any actual data)

            However, if you go to this , link  and drill down in the pull down menus to county level data (which I'd think at least roughly mirrors school districts)  - there are plenty of < 10% poverty areas.  Too many that aren't, of course, but the < 10% are hardly "rare" either.

  •  My Turkish Experience (6+ / 0-)

    I taught English in a private school in Turkey a couple of years ago and it turned me completely against standardized tests. The Turks rely heavily on them beginning very early in school. The kids I taught had no interest in learning anything that was not on the test, so conversational English did not interest them. I would usually have about 25% of the students who wanted to learn and the rest I would direct to the back of the class to talk quietly.

    There is a major industry in private after-school tutoring schools called dershane's. It is a crazy thing that the kids goof off all day at regular school then they spend several more hours after school or on weekends studying for the real test that will get them in the better public schools or university. If the kids would pay attention in school they might learn what they need.

    Imagine having an SAT test to look forward to every two years or so.

    Critical thinking is mostly unheard of in Turkish education, and Arab schools are even worse because everyone passes all the way through grad school there.

    I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts. Fyodor Dostoevky "Notes from the Underground"

    by Roger M on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 04:41:42 AM PDT

  •  You are wrong (5+ / 0-)

    At least one fact in your diary is wrong which makes it susceptible in my eyes. PISA test is done by 9th graders and in Finland (at least) everyone is still part of that pool - there has been no division yet to two different tracks (high school and vocational school). So the PISA test is indeed comparing apples to apples because it is testing the whole generation, not just the most gifted in these countries.

    Yes, you have a point about poverty and its important role in education. However, I think you are way overplaying the quality of the US education system. Rich white kids are doing well in the US but overall, the standard required from kids and the quality of teachers (yes, I said it) lag behind many other countries. No, standardized testing is not the answer but a more rigorous education (and better pay) for teachers is part of the solution. I am not blaming teachers for the mediocre US education system, but in many countries most if not all teachers are very highly educated professionals which is simply not the case here. Teach for America? Allow me to laugh - yes, it is well-intentioned but whoever thought just putting young adults to a classroom because they finished college would make them good teachers is badly mistaken. Teaching is a skill and educating teachers should be a big investment here, not just "investing in education" (which often means more useless iPads and other technological gadgets in classrooms which do nothing to improve educational outcomes).

    Ok, my post is pretty incoherent but the main point is: the situation in the US is not as rosy as you say it is.

    Also, one more thing: poverty is a variable in education outcomes but not as fundamental as you make it out to be. Compare Norway's PISA ranking to Finland's to see an example (both homogeneous small rich nations with Norway being even richer, however Finland is way ahead).

    •  Er, just because there are differences between (0+ / 0-)

      countries with different levels of poverty does NOT meant their won't be differences between countries with the same poverty levels for other reasons.

      •  Exactly (0+ / 0-)

        That's why I said that poverty is a variable but there are many others too. Norway-Finland example does not indicate that poverty does not matter (which I also said in my post) but I just brought that up as a crude example of how everything can not be just blamed just on poverty - other variables matter a lot as well (such as highly educated teachers with a great motivation and a high degree of autonomy, something that is a reality in Finland for example).

    •  Education will never be good enough but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      it is also not as dire as people say.

      Look at all those proposals in Donors Choose - those are all teachers working on their own time to bring something new and exciting for their kids.

      This is an interesting article, I think representative of many schools that from the outside appear scary but that are doing many fabulous things inside their doors:

      There is a lot of herd mentality with a school lottery. There are about a dozen schools of the 100 or so in the city that get over half of the first choice requests from parents. They tend to have higher test scores. Parents we know like high test scores: they seem objective. But it only takes a little reading to realize that they are highly correlated with demographics. Schools that don’t have a lot of poor students have high test scores; schools that have more have lower scores. After reading some articles I realized that I could easily derive a formula: for every percentage point of students getting free and reduced price lunches, expect a 5 point drop in API (from a max of 1000). I made this up but it works pretty well in most circumstances (schools with a large share of Chinese-American kids tend to outperform their demographics, however).
      I have a different perspective on all of this now, but at the time, like many parents facing the lottery, we pretty much lost our minds. Like everyone else at our preschool, we wanted the brass ring schools, the ones that had great scores. We knew it wasn’t that important, really, but a school with high test scores seemed like, if nothing else, a useful insurance policy. And it’s hard to buck the tide. Other parents said things like, “Well, 900 API is like an A, and you want an A school for your kids, right? You wouldn’t accept a B or a C school.” And thanks to relentless fundraising those schools had money to burn; their facilities were nicer, the selection of extra-curricular activities was better, and afterschool programs had won awards. It seemed easy enough to look past the occasional signs of near-rabid parental intensity to get the goodies.

      Despite this, we did take the (in hindsight excellent) advice from Parents for Public Schools to tour every school within a reasonable commute distance, no matter what its test scores or perceived popularity. The internet is not your friend during the school search. With hindsight, it told us nothing useful, and often made us doubt ourselves for no good reason.

      When I mentioned touring this school to other white and Asian-American parents we knew who’d actually heard of it, there were, on occasion, curled lips, and comments I would be embarrassed to repeat. Last year I overheard one of my co-workers complaining to all and sundry that the district had assigned her to a horrific Title I school, Rosa Parks, and she wouldn’t be caught dead sending her son there. When I asked her what she didn’t like about it, she admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she’d never visited. I told her we were very happy there.
      This is a school that has gardens, a Japanese language immersion program, 20 kids per class, a library with a librarian, and a professional jazz musician teaching music. It also has a high percentage of kids from ethnic minorities, who are english learners, and who are in special ed programs. And its test scores are around ~600.

      I met some of the staff and students on a field trip - a field trip that required substantial Above and Beyond effort from the school and its staff. The staff members I met were bright and interesting and extremely capable. Not once did I think that those kids needed better teachers to succeed.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:47:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Test scores drop when there are nearby murders (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      This is a study that shocked me when I heard about it:

      Children in Chicago showed measurable drops in test scores when there was a murder in their neighborhood, even if they didn't witness the violence directly.

      The study was conducted by Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, who analyzed 6,041 homicides between 1994 and 2002 in Chicago and testing data of about 1,100 African-Americn children from ages 6 to 17. He looked at scores of tests taken before a homicide and then compared them with test scores from before the violence.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:51:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Did you happen to read this article about (0+ / 0-)

      Finland:What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finnish School Success

      Ironically, they based their educational ideas on American ideas that we've jettisoned. There are a few other things:

      As Sahlberg put it to me later, there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.
      Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. "Oh," he mentioned at one point, "and there are no private schools in Finland."
      From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

      The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.

      And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: "Real winners do not compete." It's hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland's success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.
      Here's the kicker:
      Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.
      In fact, since academic excellence wasn't a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland's students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland -- unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway -- was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.
      If you haven't read it the whole thing's worth reading. It's short.
      •  It's a very good book (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The basic principle and sentiment in Finland is that "we can trust the teachers because we know they are well educated, motivated and smart" which by all measurable standards is true. Therefore there is no societal pressure to have a lot of standardized testing which is great because then these professional educators have autonomy to do exactly what is needed in the classroom. So good teachers create social trust and autonomy for teachers, which in turn makes the teaching profession more appealing to the smartest high school students because the job is seen as very respectable and also as an intellectual challenge. It's a virtuous cycle. We here in the US need to start the cycle as well - it will take years and years (culture is extremely hard to change as we all well know) but the first step is to reform and really invest in teacher education and make them top professionals. They are not horrible now, but let's require them to be outstanding - this investment in better training and higher pay that needs to go with it would give amazing returns (but of course this requires strategic long-term thinking which is not really possible in today's Washington).

  •  Thanks for this article. (2+ / 0-)

    Last night some friends and I were talking about a variety of things, one of which was the incredible pressure some high school students are under to take AP classes which may or may not be equivalent to college classes and may or may not allow them to skip basic courses in college.  Personally, I think it's the academic equivalent of trying to claw your way into the 1% financially, although reasonable minds may differ.

    This article usefully points out the false comparisons which make simple lists of our "rank" in world education  largely meaningless.  Their real purpose, I think, together with other fear-inducing, half-truths, is to undermine our trust and belief in public education.  If enough fear and contempt is engendered, the thinking seems to go, we will turn our public education money over to for-profit corporations who will save us and our students from sinister global geniuses.  I don't buy it, and the information in this article helps put things in perspective.

    •  Whenever I hear about young people stressing out (0+ / 0-)

      about these things I wish I could tell them to focus on the bigger goal. The goal is having a happy, useful, moral, good and satisfying life. Formal education is one route many people use to get there. But it's just one and it shouldn't be a goal in and of itself. Education can be a goal, but not a degree from a specific school.

      By the time they're thirty, no one will know if they took AP English or whatever.

  •  The only thing this dairy is missing is foam (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    fingers. Your points makes some sense. However, many countries allow vast majority of their students to continue to high school with only a few going to a separate track. And it's not like there are no high school dropouts in US. So the difference is not as big as you're claiming it to be. Also, I don't get the thing about age. In which countries do students stay in high school until they are 21?

  •  How many people know that 25% of American kids (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bontemps2012, Jakkalbessie

    live below the poverty line?

    That's $15,130 for one parent and one child or $23,050 for a family of 4.

    How many people know that a majority of American kids qualify for free or reduced lunch? Indeed, it is common today for schools to have 95%+ free and reduced lunch kids.

    I remember doing the math at my daughter's school and realizing that statistically, it meant that only 3 of her kindergarten classmates paid full price for lunch.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:25:20 AM PDT

  •  Good points .. but "best"? (0+ / 0-)

    The quality of public education attainable varies widely in this country, and it seems to me that since I went through (through the early '70s) that the difference between the best and worst has grown tremendously. I went to a large public high school in a dying industrial city in new england, but there was a full range of opportunities that would catch almost everyone .. from shops to college prep and all of the arts and all of the extracurricular stuff. The building is still there, and it's still a high school, but most of the 'extra' stuff (extra being other than required by testing) is long gone ..

    "Electronic media creates reality" - Meatball Fulton

    by zeke7237 on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:49:07 AM PDT

  •  Poverty and education (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JFactor, elfling

    There is unquestionably a strong correlation between poverty and education. However, the usual 'correlation does not imply causation' caveat is particularly applicable here.

    One possibility is that hungry kids can't learn or poor kids have no time for homework.But another possibility is that poor parents are much more likely to be uneducated themselves. Probably, reality is a combination.

    Some poor immigrant groups produce great second generation students - is this because they value education and push their children to do homework, or because their parents are not as uneducated as other poor demographics (or a combination)?

    •  I don't think any educator wants to give up on (3+ / 0-)

      high poverty students. Rather, I think we need to recognize that they have special needs different from our low poverty students, and that different resources are appropriate.

      In a school with less than 10% poverty, it's really easy to nurture the few kids who need more - they get gifts from better off friends, it's easy for staff to make sure they get gifts of books and clothes, they sit in rooms with peers who come to school ready to learn.

      In high poverty schools, you have a lot of kids dealing with PTSD, with homelessness, with family members in prison, with a lack of academic role models, and the like... not to mention that they may not have a safe place to play outside or that they don't get to visit libraries or travel.

      The thing is... we never find low performing low poverty schools. So whatever it is that is causing low performance, it's not the system per se.

      The point is that you can't get appropriate treatment without an appropriate diagnosis.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 09:34:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  An important correction: (3+ / 0-)

    You say if you're not on the academic track: "your life options are few."  This is absolutely untrue, and it's a product of our American culture with a monolithic education system.  Here, we see that to be the case because we see college as the one ticket to any decent future.  

    But the point of tracking is that there are tons of jobs and careers that are out there, which just don't require college.  With tracking, since you (the student) are now on a vocational track, the school will help you find what you do like or what you're good at, and help you find options based on your actual skills.  If you don't have a skill, you can develop one.  

    In the U.S., you'd sit through meaningless classes that prep you for a college you are neither interested in nor able to get into.  Then, you graduate with your diploma, and then what?  Sink or swim, and hope you have a skill you developed on the side, because you didn't get it dozing off in math and literature class.    

    We spit on manual labor and vocational education in this country, even if the jobs are well-paid and secure.  We don't often say it out loud, but it emerges in little comments like "your options are few", and I believe that our one-way-to-success educational system directly contributes to that attitude.

    Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

    by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 08:50:30 AM PDT

    •  I agree completely (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, nominalize, zinger99

      This is exactly true. In some way I find the college fetish puzzling - yes, it is true that in the 21st century the US has to be very competitive and the advantage and the value added comes overwhelmingly from knowledge-based jobs. However, this knowledge can be more technical in nature and absolutely does not always require a traditional college degree. Many kids in Europe that go through the vocational school track are not people who the society gave up on and many of them got a very well-rounded education. Again, an example from Finland: after ninth grade about half of the kids go to a traditional, more academic-based high school and the other half go to a vocational school. But even the vocational school has some general subjects such as languages, math etc. But the emphasis is different and it allows students to focus on what they are interested in and what they are good at.

      The whole "everyone needs to go through exactly the same kind of education until they're 18" attitude is outdated and does not allow for flexibility nor effectiveness. There are fears creating different programs would increase inequality but I don't see how giving more choices for kids when they are 15 is that bad (both programs or tracks would be free of course at public schools, it would be just a matter of preference).

      •  Part of that fear is historical (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Even when I was a student, counselors routinely transferred kids whose name ended in z from calculus to wood shop.

        But I agree: the irony is that those kids who are really good at carpentry and plumbing probably make more money than those kids who were good at calculus. :-)

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 10:32:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  In these countries, counselors don't decide (0+ / 0-)

          There are exams that help determine tracks.  And I don't mean multiple-choice scantron bullshit exams, but real exams that test core knowledge, creativity, critical thinking, and writing skills.

          You're right to worry about the prejudices of local bigwigs.  (Or smallwigs acting big).  But we can work around those with centralization.

          Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

          by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 12:19:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I mentioned elsewhere on this thread (0+ / 0-)

          that racial issues  weighed heavily against tracking in my school. Also, will we be perpetuating permanent classes.

          I just don't know how we would negotiate the class/race/ethnicity issue.

          •  I understand that concern (0+ / 0-)

            I just don't see how forcing everyone to go through the current high school system will lessen the class differences either. I'm all for providing top notch education for all, but we should not confuse equality and equal opportunity with homogenizing an entire generation. We should be able to make sure that all kids have the tools they need to do well in the modern economy even if there are other programs after you turn 15 than a traditional high school. The problem is that in these other countries such as Finland, the kids are quite clearly ahead of the American peers when they turn 15 so in the US we need to continue with the basic general education to all to just catch up which serves everyone inadequately.

            •  But isn't it interesting that Finland got there (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              by emphasizing cooperation and equality, not competition and excellence?

              •  Yeah (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Yes it is. It's all about the virtuous cycle I talked about in another reply of mine - the teachers are highly educated, motivated and smart which in turn creates social trust that allows less standardized testing, which in turn lets these education professionals do what they need to do in the classroom. And because there is a high degree of autonomy and a lot of respect for teachers, the smart kids will want to become one because of the reputation and the intellectual challenge it provides (and not just teaching to the test). And thus the teacher pool stays highly educated, motivated and smart.

    •  Indeedy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, nominalize

      Give you an example, since it's the industry I'm most familiar with: take your average hard-rock mine. Among the highest people on the site will be the miners. I was a geologist and I was the lowest paid guy in the operation (because I was just out of school) who worked underground. The miners, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, all trades and none requiring university, made more than my university-educated self. And since they were the guys who kept the place actually running, that was fine with me.

      •  Good example. And I'll bet (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        you 10,000 Romney dollars that if you and a miner were to go around telling 100 people what you do, even people here on this site, you as a "low-paid" geologist would get more respect and less pity than a higher-paid miner.  Because you went to college, so you've 'obviously succeeded.'

        Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

        by nominalize on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 09:55:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And there are tangible advantages to that. I've (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          nominalize, elfling

          had jobs that were on a variety of different levels in terms of prestige, and it was always really hard for me to stomach the disrespect I would get when I was doing manual labor. It wasn't a small thing at all. My therapist would say that I shouldn't pay attention to what people like that say, but he had advanced degrees and a good position with a hospital, so I think it was easy for him to say.

          Sometimes I joke the my degree was more important for my social life than for my career. It's barely a joke, in reality, because I've had quite a few boyfriends who I think wouldn't have given mie the time of day if I was a "high school graduate."

  •  This is totally ancedotal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but I'd like to throw it in. I live in Japan and my daughter (who has Japanese and American parents) grew up here, attending a public school out in the sticks, so not very academically oriented. When she was in the 8th grade, I spent a year in the US on a sabbatical. My daughter attended a public middle school there (in Oregon). In Japan she was an average math student, really nothing special and she didn't care much for the subject. In the US, she was the best math student in her class by far, mainly because she had already studied everything that was being taught. That would indicate to me that the Japanese schools teach math earlier and at higher levels than US schools do. That could be one reason they score better on tests.
    I also agree with most of KoNko's comments above about Asian societies and schools. It's just done differently here. I teach at the university level and there are plenty of creative and innovative students in my classes.

    •  My brother went to school in the US starting in (2+ / 0-)
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      elfling, zinger99

      the 4th grade, and I went to school in the US starting in the 9th grade. Before that we went to school in Hong Kong. What I noticed was that american schools repeat a lot in the middle school and high school years. They actually learned pretty much the same things as we did, at around the same age, during elementary school. But they just kept repeating the same thing over and over, while the asian curriculum moved on right along.

      Actually, having gone to high school in the US- I can say that american public schools are the best in the world. Not at academics obviously. American public schools (and catholic schools) are basically sports academies. And as such they have no parallel in the world.

    •  They scaffold their learning so much better... (0+ / 0-)

      in other countries, there are very specific building blocks that are mastered. Fewer yearly standards and more rigor. In the US, it had gotten to the point that more was better. I have 121 standards in English 1 to cover in 18 weeks. About 50 percent of my kids scored BASIC on their 8th grade tests, yet I'm supposed to teach them 121 "new" things. They spent years hitting slap dash on stuff, so I literally have to teach them personal pronouns every year. In ninth grade.

      Common Core, to its credit, at least narrows down that list considerably and is much more focused on building each year--they start out basic in kindergarten and slowly add on. Since it hasn't been tested and really proven long-term, then this may be yet another crap-shoot, but at least there is some actual rigor to the standards and, I hope, more accountability.

    •  I think we teach math skill at ages that are later (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      than the ones at which they should ideally be taught. A man with whom I lived had been a math prodigy as a kid. One thing I learned from him is that math is for young people. I really didn't know that. It more like classical music, ballet or a foreign language, it's actually easier if you start young.

      Since it is a language in a way, I think comparing it to language learning is probably a good way to think of it. Children learn new languages more quickly than adults. It's not about "rigor" or making things harder or having "higher standards" or any of those "crak the whip" type things that seem to make the education reformers ooh and ahh. It's just about doing things at an age when the mind is most ready for it.

  •  What about Canada? (2+ / 0-)
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    JFactor, zinger99

    Canada has a similar fraction of students going to higher education as here in the U.S., and does not "stream" students into vocational programs early any more than we do here. Drop out rates in high school are not higher than in the U.S., I suspect.

    So, the cohort of students taking standardized tests in Canada and the U.S. should be rather similar. Canada seems to (in my non-scientific survey of a few of these international studies) routinely score significantly better than in the U.S.

    I agree with the diarist that "apples to apples" comparisons are not always being made in these rankings, I fear that does not "explain" all of the low U.S. scores.

    There are many challenges faced by U.S. public education. There are many, many educators doing a fantastic job. However, for many reasons, the teaching of science in the middle and high schools is often quite mediocre, at best.

    One of the biggest problems, IMHO: the low level of respect and financial remuneration accorded K-12 teachers means that very few of the better science students in university will chose a career in K-12 teaching.

    Just try to find a high school physics teacher who actually has a B.Sc in physics... few and far between, I fear.

    •  The education of teachers is key (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, FloraLine, armd

      You said it well. There is a low level of respect and financial compensation for teachers so the smartest students will not generally choose teaching as a profession. I'm not saying the current crop of teachers is not smart, but I'm saying that in many countries the qualifications and education training of teachers far outweigh the US.

      In countries such as Finland, the top third of graduating students in high school make up 90% of the future teachers. This means the teacher pool consists of the smartest and most motivated students which can not be anything but good. Only one third of the teachers in the US were in the top third of their graduating class. Also, teachers in these countries all have a master's degree in education and an advanced degree in the subject they teach - this again makes a huge difference.

      How to make this happen in the US? Changing cultural perceptions such as the reputation of teaching is very hard but a concerted effort should be made to improve the quality of teacher education and recruiting top students to join these programs should be the number one priority. This means spending money of course, both on the education of these teachers and the increased salaries that are required to make the profession more appealing. This is a very rudimentary analysis but the bottom line is that teacher quality matters a lot and a way to achieve that is not through standardized testing or financial bonuses but to make the whole profession more respected and invest in teacher education.

    •  We also are terrible at funding science labs (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      armd, Jakkalbessie

      which, to be as good as they should be, need to be smaller class sizes than the typical high school class and also need a much larger materials budget for consumables.

      It's pretty typical in the US for all the teachers in a school to be given a similar materials budget and for it to be on order $200.  If you figure that a typical science teacher is teaching 5 periods of 30 kids each, that's 150 students, or $1.33 per kid. If you figure that disposable gloves cost 13 cents a pair, that means if you only buy gloves, you can do 10 lab days a year.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 10:37:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Drop out rate in Quebec: 31% (0+ / 0-)

      I lived in Canada for many years. I was married to a Canadian. I don't know about the drop out rate in other provinces. Like the U.S., each province controls much of it's own stuff, however the Quebecers were constantly pulling their hair out over the drop out rate. I also took university level classes there, and I didn't notice any real academic differences, if anything they may have been easier. I got good grades, so I'd love to tell you that they were incredibly difficult.

      As far as the B.S. in physics goes, most teachers major in education. Personally, I think it would be good, especially for high school level teachers, if they'd get a B.A. in a subject and then a Master's in education, but few actually do it that way.

  •  Finland's system does not fit (2+ / 0-)

    I hate what I see happening to our educational system. My high school education could have been much better. I was NOT prepared for the rigorous work I faced at Carolina back in 1980, but my daughter's h.s. education was ALL memorization for tests. Constant hours and hours and hours of homework that all counted towards grades. It's criminal, in my mind. And testing ... pfft. We've gone nuts with it.

    I would submit, however, that Finland is the exception to all these percentages of poverty and tracking. Have you read Pasi Sahlberg's book on Finnish school reform? They completely reformed their educational system ~25 years ago. Testing was thrown out. THROWN. OUT. Teacher education, preparation,  qualification and responsibility (not "accountability", responsibility - power in the classroom to teach subject matter as they see fit) was brought to the forefront as THE most crucial element of classroom success. Finland consistently out ranks Japan, and everyone else, in international math & science scoring. Just food for thought.

    If you don't know history, you don't know anything. You're a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ~Michael Crichton, Timeline

    by Leslie H on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 12:18:12 PM PDT

  •  I failed algebra in high school, now I have a BA (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    armd, elfling, FourthOfJulyAsburyPark

    in mathematics and a MSc in physics, along with an AAA in photography.  In the society I grew up in (NE Iowa 60's & 70's) had I been tested on what I'd learned by age 10 or 14 I imagine I'd have been moved to some sort of unskilled labor learning track.  I don't think I was stupid, just not interested in school.  I wasn't interested until later in life: an interest in art and photography took me back to school while I worked nights & weekends as a janitor.  The AAA degree lead to working with some VERY smart and interesting people that sent me back to school again after I'd started a family.  I found that not only COULD I do math, it was FUN!  Desire for application of the math skills took me into physics.  Had my debt load not grown so high I would have kept going with physics and engineering and finished a PhD.

    Still, I've had almost two decades of work in high tech industries now because I went back to school to be a photographer.  Maybe I could have done something similar in one of the systems the diarist described?
    On the other hand, had I been brought up in a system where early testing determined your ultimate career my parents and I would have pushed harder early on and done well from the beginning.

    Despite my path and the example I set with success in life due to the education I had to pay for, only two of my kids completed a traditional high school education.  One is currently pursuing a college degree, the other (after an abortive attempt at a military career) has a bright future in fund raising.  I'm very proud of both of them, but no less proud of the other three.  The youngest also had no interest in school so finished an alternative high school early so he could enter the job market.  At less than 20 years old he now manages the tire store he originally worked in as a laborer - and earns almost as much as his old man!  The other two later got GED's and, though not yet currently successful, are working hard to improve their situations.  I think this illustrates that there is more than one programmed path to success within the midwestern USA education system.

    The problem is we're arguing about the wallpaper and we haven't even got a foundation yet.

    by 84thProblem on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 02:48:00 PM PDT

    •  I learned late that I love math and I've been (0+ / 0-)

      toying with the idea of going back for a BA just because. I'm so thrilled to hear that you did that.

      •  I can only say that it worked (0+ / 0-)

        out for me!  What was it that got you turned on to mathematics?  For me it was the teacher for the remedial math course at the community college I went when I first returned to school.  Fractions - I had NEVER understood how to work with fractions!  It may be that I had some trouble with simple math in first or second grade, but when we started having to do the same thing with fractions I think I must have just given up!

        But the man that taught the remedial math course (I wish I could remember his name!) helped me to understand; it's all just multiplying by 1.  With that simple truth my eyes were opened.  The rest is history.

        The problem is we're arguing about the wallpaper and we haven't even got a foundation yet.

        by 84thProblem on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 06:18:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Does all your excuse makeing (0+ / 0-)

    Actually propose a solution for the noticeable and self evident problem  that the united states is not producing a self sustainable amount engineers and scientists?

    Or again the noticeable fact that when compared to their peers our new college students entering the STEM fields are often at a disadvantage to their better prepared/younger foreign born classmates?  

    The system Euroland / Japan has is simply better than our system.

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