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US Educational Scores Not So Abysmal 412

Posted by Soulskill
from the hooray-we-are-slightly-less-dumb-than-we-thought dept.
DavidHumus writes "The much-publicized international rankings of student test scores — PISA — rank the U.S. lower than it ought to be for two reasons: a sampling bias that includes a higher proportion of lower socio-economic classes from the U.S. than are in the general population and a higher proportion of of U.S. students than non-U.S. who are in the lower socio-economic classes. If one were to rank comparable classes between the U.S. and the rest of the world, U.S. scores would rise to 4th from 14th in reading (PDF) and to 10th from 25th in math."
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US Educational Scores Not So Abysmal

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  • by cpm99352 (939350) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:43PM (#42610065)
    FA says "Based on their analysis, the co-authors found that average U.S. scores in reading and math on the PISA are low partly because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students comes from disadvantaged social class groups, whose performance is relatively low in every country."

    Hmm, is the study arguing then that these students should be excluded? If so, what is the basis? Are they not really in the country?

    Or are they sidestepping the issue of the massive difference in standards of living in the United States?

    Granted, the source material may have handled this better than the summary article...

    FA says: "As part of the study, Carnoy and Rothstein calculated how international rankings on the most recent PISA might change if the United States had a social class composition similar to that of top-ranking nations"

    And the point is???
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It means that if we pretend that we don't have a massive income disparity in this country, and that this disparity is causing our educational system to fail, we can then pretend that everything is just fine, right up until the resulting educational problems start causing our national economy to falter and our democratic institutions to become non-functional.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kenh (9056)

        Poor people can succeed, rich people can fail academically - money alone doesn't "fix" anything in education, it just makes it look nicer.

        • by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:11PM (#42610543)

          Poor people can succeed, rich people can fail academically - money alone doesn't "fix" anything in education, it just makes it look nicer.

          And it's clearly no more difficult to study when you have 5 siblings in a 1 bedroom household where you have no computer and eat nothing but dollar menu McDonalds with no hope of ever paying for an education than it is if you live in a McMansion with more bedrooms than occupants, have private tutors, go to private school, and have a trust fund waiting to make sure you don't have to work in college.

        • by uniquename72 (1169497) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:18PM (#42610629)

          Poor people can succeed, rich people can fail academically - money alone doesn't "fix" anything in education, it just makes it look nicer.

          You're partially right. Poor people CAN succeed, but rich people are much, much more likely to.

          I grew up dirt poor and succeeded, academically and otherwise. But I'm the only one in my family -- and nearly the only one in my high school -- who "succeeded" by any normal definition of the word. Now look at the average SAT scores of folks that the Rockefeller's and Bush's of the world grew up with -- almost nothing but successes.

          Surely you're not suggesting that there's not a VERY strong correlation between money and academic success? Money's not the cause of that success, but it's a massive, massive contributor.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            "You're partially right. Poor people CAN succeed, but rich people are much, much more likely to."

            Statistically this is true but the lack of money is not the main reason for the correlation. As a teacher in NYC for nearly 20 years I can attest that a large portion of the non immigrant lower income people have severe emotional and/or ability to learn issues due to low IQ, drugs use of the parent during pregnancy, mom had baby with man she did not know etc.. No amount of money is going to change this. Even if

        • by Billly Gates (198444) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:39PM (#42610887) Journal

          Poor people can succeed, rich people can fail academically - money alone doesn't "fix" anything in education, it just makes it look nicer.

          Speaking as a former educator I can tell you there is a HUGE difference. The number one problem is classroom management. Here is a very typical day in an inner city school [youtube.com]?

          How would you deal with such a rude and disrespectful student? In a rich school if a lady did that in the middle of class and ruined the day for the other 24 students she would be thrown to the principals office FAST. Well why can't you do that in an inner city school? Because I would throw out 1/4 of the students every single day.

          They act like animals and give no respect to authority. Epsecially if you are white. I am not racist at all but just telling you how it is. I have to be a FUCKING ASSHOLE and instill the wrath of God within 5 minutes of class and maybe I can go over some things in an urban school.

          Because we do nto want to include poor kids the school districts have quotas on how many students can be sent home each day or be disciplines. So if the quota is 6 kids per day out of 500 students in both the rich kids school and the poor kids school you are screwed!

          Teaching is a great profession if the kids want to learn but you couldn't pay me enough to deal with inner city children. Even the 1st and 2nd graders act like crazy savanges and have no issue punching another student or teacher in the face. They are used to violence and watch TV all the time because the parents are drug dealers or single mothers who work 2 minimum wage jobs and are never home just to break even at the end of each month.

          There are other issues too like parental involvement but I am not Superman and can't substitute teach effectively when I have 1 or 2 bad kids stealing away classtime. Yes, the poor kids then do worse on tests because the teachers just have to do classroom management instead of teach and of course no help from the parents suck too.
           

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:54PM (#42610261)

      This, FTA, states it better:

      Because social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared.

      So the US is number one in social class inequality! Yeah! We're number one!

      This just means that the US has extremely rich kids, who are smart. And extremely poor kids, who are dumb.

      And it demonstrates that you can prove anything you want by fiddling with statistical samplings.

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:00PM (#42610385)

        This just means that the US has extremely rich kids, who are smart. And extremely poor kids, who are dumb.

        No, it means the US has rich kids receiving a good education, and poor kids receiving a poor education.

        • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:16PM (#42610607)

          No, it means the US has rich kids receiving a good education, and poor kids receiving a poor education.
           
          Hmm, the uncomfortable reality is that rich kids perform better even in same schools with same teachers. It's what happens at home that makes the difference, namely greater expectations from parents and a greater range of activities and experiences outside the school.

          • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:12PM (#42611721) Homepage

            It's what happens at home that makes the difference, namely greater expectations from parents and a greater range of activities and experiences outside the school.

            Better nutrition. Safer neighborhoods. Likely more stable homes. Being able to afford extra-curricular activities. Educated parents to help with homework.

            I'm not disagreeing with you ... all of the benefits of being rich/better off translate into many things. We sure as hell couldn't afford to play team sports when we were kids ... people used to spend thousands of dollars each year, probably more. Not an option in my family.

            If you go to school hungry, or have to worry about avoiding gangs, junkies and all of the things that rich kids don't ... there's a lot more distractions and a lot fewer opportunities. Other Shit gets in the way.

            Which is why people ignorantly say "they're just wasting their opportunity for an education". They're mostly just trying to get by with many more problems than advantaged kids, but people act like it's an equal playing field to start with.

            But people don't want to fix the underlying socio-economic problems, they want higher test scores. They just say that "education in America is fine, it's the poor kids who are dragging down our test scores, the private schools are thriving. Who cares is the public schools might have developing-nation literacy rates?"

        • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:22PM (#42610679)

          This just means that the US has extremely rich kids, who are smart. And extremely poor kids, who are dumb.

          No, it means the US has rich kids receiving a good education, and poor kids receiving a poor education.

          It's more complicated than that. You can't just put the poor kids in the same school as the rich kids and expect them to suddenly do a lot better. I went to a really good high school, and while I was taking the AP and honors classes, the poor kids in the same school were, for the most part, not.

          There's a whole lot of built-in advantages that come from having educated parents. Before you even go to school, they've generally taken the time to teach you a great deal of things, which gives you a leg up against your classmates. When you first start taking math, and you have problems understanding basic arithmetic, they're going to be able to help you with that homework, whereas other kids go home, and their parents don't have the knowledge to help them. Your parents might take the time to involve you in their electronic hobbies where you get to learn something they don't teach at the schools, while the other kids' parents don't have any hobbies other than watching TV, because buying random electronic parts to build something doesn't really fit in their budget...

          Basically, the problem needs to be approached from a socioeconomic perspective, not just a quality of schools perspective.

          • by T.E.D. (34228) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @11:41AM (#42616807)

            One advantage many people either don't realise or don't think about is expectations. I knew from an early age I was going to attend and graduate from college, perhaps even graduate school. My parents did, and that was just what comes next after grade school, middle school, and high school. I remember being suprised at many of my friends my senior year not knowing what they were going to do next. How could someone not know? College is next!

            So when troubles came (as they eventually do for everyone), I knew any path forward was going to include me sticking it out and graduating. I had a girlfriend whose mother had dropped out out college. She was having a rough time with a paper she needed to get a good grade on, and just decided that was it. She was quitting college. I remember my utter shock at this, as that had simply never occurred to me as an option.

            A person's expectations for themselves are very powerful, and that is strongly affected by their background.

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        This just means that the US has extremely rich kids, who are smart, but their smartness doesn't matter since they have no need of it to live comfortably.

        And extremely poor kids, who are dumb, so their willingness to overcome the poverty - and, side effect, contribute to society - doesn't matter, them being locked into their dumbness

        Extended your statement with their logical consequences. If you are rich... err... smart enough, draw your own conclusion (while your socio-economic class still exists)

    • by Bigby (659157) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:55PM (#42610289)

      No, it is saying that the survey covered, for instance:

      US higher socioeconomic pupils: 30%
      US lower socioeconomic pupils: 70%

      X higher socioeconomic pupils: 50%
      X lower socioeconomic pupils: 50%

      Which is not a scientific poll unless that is the same proportion of pupils in each socioeconomic bracket.

      • Undoing accidental moderation. Someone else please successfully mod this up without missing and modding down.

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        An excellent example of ... (whatever)

        Let's try a Reductio ad absurdum: suppose a nation made of the sole "rich child Stephen Hawking" and 299,999,999 uneducated others. By your "scientific" methodology, to reach 50%-50% proportionality with the other countries, the poll would need to take the (sole) genius and a single other person. Because of the presence of the genius in the poll, the ranking of that country will be the highest possible.
        Question: does that (highest) ranking offer any value in assessing

    • Basically it's arguing that standardized tests are bullshit. Reducing a human being to a piece of paper is inherently ridiculous, and doesn't stop being so just because you've used the same algorithm on everyone.

      In some cases tests're necessary, such as college admission. But these school-system ranking ones just don't seem to show much. If you read the article, for example, they also point out our math deficiency is caused partly by the test-writers decision to make fractions count as much as Algebra.

    • And the point is???

      The point is to evaluate how successful our education system is; where it is succeeding and where it could do better. And in particular to learn whether the approaches taken by other countries is working better or worse than us, so we can adjust our approach accordingly. The school system can't change the socioeconomic breakdown of the country; they have to find the best approaches to serve the students they have. Blindly comparing schools that have mostly rich kids to ones with mostly poor kids will always

    • Hmm, is the study arguing then that these students should be excluded? If so, what is the basis? Are they not really in the country?

      No, I think they're arguing the problem isn't the educational system, but instead that we have a larger proportion of the population that is a member of disadvantaged social groups than the countries we're being compared to.

      FA says: "As part of the study, Carnoy and Rothstein calculated how international rankings on the most recent PISA might change if the United States had a social class composition similar to that of top-ranking nations"

      And the point is???

      That instead of focusing on improving education purely by looking at schools through programs like No Children Left Behind, we should focus on the economy, how to lower unemployment in the blue-collar section and other strategies to improve the economic status of a large portion of our p

    • by Zalbik (308903)

      Hmm, is the study arguing then that these students should be excluded? If so, what is the basis? Are they not really in the country?

      No...the study is arguing that these results should not necessarily be used to determine education policy.

      The Dept. of Education has gotten flak that US students do not perform as well as their international peers, and should introduce school reforms in order to fix this problem. This study indicates that the root cause of this performance gap is socioeconomic factors, which

    • From what I gathered in a very brief skimming of the paper, it appears that they're mostly interested in ensuring accurate comparisons, and that they believe that merely comparing national averages is not rigorous enough, is obfuscating the reasons for the differences, and is hiding possible lessons that could be gleaned from those doing well. They also believe that the comparisons being made were misleading, since the OECD report claims that there are a roughly similar number of "disadvantaged" students in

  • We aren't TRYING to be a class-segregated society.
    • by mellon (7048)

      Coulda fooled me.

    • We aren't TRYING to be a class-segregated society.

      Well, most of us aren't, and rather unsuccessfully to boot.

    • We aren't TRYING to be a class-segregated society.

      ...and by "we", you mean non-(large)corporate America. Large corporations in America obviously believe in class-segregation, as evidenced by their lawyers, lobbyists, and general behavior.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        Really? I mean, sure they may be creating that situation, but a lot of people who are in charge of large corporations didn't start off rich.

        I don't think there is a corporate bias towards making people poor, I just think it is the result of the way that corporatism works.

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)
      Anybody posting on here from an inner city public school by chance? *chirp* anybody?
      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        I went to the closest thing my state had to an inner-city public school. Very occasional serious fights (I wasn't in the middle of them thank goodness), about a 30% dropout rate, and a wide range of results: Some kids went on to prestigious colleges, a lot of kids went to lower-tier schools, a lot of kids went basically nowhere and ended up working fast food or learning a skilled trade, and some kids got knocked up or hooked on drugs. The number 1 determining factor in how the kid ended up? Their parents' e

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      The answer isn't really a mystery:

      For about 300 years, rich white people have convinced a significant percentage of poor white people that they had more in common with the rich white people than with the poor brown people. This makes it easier for the rich white people to screw up the lives of both the poor white people and the poor brown people, which makes it easier for the rich white people to hire the poor white people and poor brown people really cheaply. The last thing those rich white people want is

  • by Oh Gawwd Peak Oil (1000227) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:45PM (#42610105)

    Uhh . . . wait a second!!1

    How could U.S. scores rise to 4th from 14th, when four is less than 14??? They mean "lower"!

    (Goes back to reading Texas high school math book)

    • When you're dealing with rankings, 1st can be considered the highest. And so on. "Lower" would not be a valid term as it implies being worse when 4th is better than 14th.
      • by vlm (69642)

        The funny part is we got 4th on reading, I assume reading English. So the folks who beat us are probably Great Britain and her possessions, and ... what like Japan and China or ?

      • by kenh (9056)

        You might want to go back and re-read the parent post:

        (Goes back to reading Texas high school math book)

    • Re:Wait a second!1 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Fnordulicious (85996) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:16PM (#42610603) Homepage

      This has nothing to do with math, actually. It’s instead a conceptual and linguistic problem because of two different metaphors we use in English. One is that the increase in value of numbers from zero to infinity is modelled as a vertical scale. Thus zero is at the bottom, one is above zero, two is above one, and so forth. The other is that the *decrease* in value of numbers from infinity to zero is *also* a vertical scale. Thus zero is at the top, one is below zero, two is below one, and so forth. So we have two metaphors:

      1. Numbers are vertical. Zero is the top.
      2. Numbers are vertical. Zero is the bottom.

      Note that neither of these is actually valid in any physical sense. Numbers have no physical relationship with vertical alignment in a space. We use these sorts of metaphors because they map abstract concepts to our perceptions of the physical world, thus making it easier for us to visualize them – to “see” them mentally. Unfortunately for us, metaphors may conflict between people, and then our communication about these abstract concepts becomes confused.

      A similar situation arises with time, which is another abstract concept that we can’t perceive (we have no perceptual apparatus for time itself, only for physical changes over time). Suppose I have a party scheduled on Tuesday. A friend can’t make it, so he wants to reschedule it. He says to me “Can we move the party ahead?” Does this mean the party should be moved to Monday, or to Wednesday? It turns out there are two competing metaphors involved.

      1. Time moves forward.
      2. Events in the future move toward us.

      If you apply the metaphor in 1 then the party should be moved to Wednesday. This is because, since time moves forward, “ahead” means a point in the future in the direction of time’s movement. But if you apply the metaphor in 2 then the party should be moved to Monday. This is because, from where we “stand” in this vision of time, if an event moves “ahead” of its position then it will move toward us. In effect the events “face” us. The party then occurs *earlier* in time, hence on the day before Tuesday. Now that you’re aware of this difference, you may discover that it depends on some physical properties of our experience. In fact, people who are moving – say walking or riding a bike – are more likely to use metaphor 2 above. People who are sitting still are more likely to use metaphor number 1. So if you walk into someone’s office, you’re primed for 2 and the seated person is primed for 1. You agree together to move a meeting “ahead” and then later discover the misunderstanding.

      These sorts of metaphors are typical across the world’s languages because they handle perceptual limitations common to all humans. The need for these metaphors is universal, but the precise metaphors are not necessarily the same. For example, there is evidence that Aymara – a language indigenous to the northern Andes of South America – has a metaphor for time quite unlike what English speakers are used to. In Aymara, people have a metaphor that amounts to “Time is visible”. Events that occurred in the past are visible, and thus lie ahead of the speaker. Events that occur in the future are not visible, and hence lie behind the speaker. Time then moves backward in conceptual space, exactly the opposite of what we’re accustomed to in English. This isn’t the same as “Events in time move toward us”, but it’s similar.

  • So what you're saying is, if we move the goal posts and massage the data, we won't suck anymore? I love this solution -- solved not with expensive money and training but nice, cheap words. No really, that pretty much is the summary for the article: It's those damn poor people dragging us down.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)

      "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

      I think this article very clearly underlines this.

    • No, what they're saying is that if you want to make comparisons between any groups, you better make sure the comparison groups are indeed comparable. This paper tries to do that. Take it or leave it.

      Imagine if a study of health outcomes compared, say, the obese of one country, say, the United States, to the non-obese of another country and then tried to make claims about the health outcomes of the *general population* of each country. Would you then say, "Oh, so now we're supposed to just claim that Amer

    • by slew (2918)

      I think it is a bit more that the headlines. One way to think about it is how on average how educated did going to school in your country make the population. Another way to think about it is how well our schools are serving the average person.

      After reading the result of this "reanalysis" the conclusion is that our schools are probably serving the average person better than we thought because apparently our schools (in the US) are really serving the more priviledged people worse than other developed countr

  • by richlv (778496) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:49PM (#42610161)

    "proportion of of U.S. students" ;)

  • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:50PM (#42610173) Journal

    That just means the rest of the world isn't as smart as we hoped it was.

  • All they're trying to prove is that America isn't stupid. Gee, now what would have given the rest of the world that assumption?

    Socio-economics should not be put into grading. It doesn't matter if you are poor or rich, it depends on how much you are taught. I know lots of students from the middle-class who are smart outside the class, but unwilling to do the work. I know plenty of "poor" kids who have come to school, straight As but unable to tell left from right.

    Our educational system is based on rote
  • Having made the mistake of reading the article, I'm not sure this really changes anything. They are saying that the US has a higher percentage of students in the lower socio-economic categories. These categories always perform lower so that lowers the overall US scores. While I am sure all of this is true, it is a simple fact of the US. We do have more poor people and poor people do perform poorer on the tests, therefore the US as a whole does poorer on the tests. So yes, our top students do as well as

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      I think that is what they mean.

      I think they were saying that not all children take the test, but when they do take the test, the children taking the test in the US are primarily from the lower classes, and that the upper classes are underrepresented in regard to their actual ratio in the US.

      For example:

      European Country A has 5 rich kids and 10 poor kids. In Country A, the test is taken by 5 rich kids and 5 poor kids. The other 5 poor kids do not take the test.
      The US has 5 rich kids and 10 poor kids. In t

    • by overshoot (39700)

      You are right that as a comparison between countries the usual rankings work tolerably well -- except, of course, for the countries that have totally shitty economies verging on peonage, but whose schools only take the very healthy children of the (small) upper classes. Those countries suck regardless, although we're trying to become one.

      However, the major use of these educational comparisons is to belittle the United States' school systems. Which are not really set up to correct for the consequences of o

  • Shocking! (Score:5, Funny)

    by kenh (9056) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:55PM (#42610287) Homepage Journal

    So if we factor out the poorer-performing students, America scores better?

    That is amazing!

  • by cheekyjohnson (1873388) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:08PM (#42610477)

    Even if this was correct, test scores don't mean much to me. Schools seem to be all about teaching to the test and rote memorization, and I couldn't care less about test scores because of that.

  • 10 times (Score:4, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:21PM (#42610667) Journal

    14th to 4th? That's like 10 times better!

  • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:14PM (#42611731) Homepage Journal

    American's can't even spell colour properly. :P

    • by skine (1524819)

      However, some of us do know how the difference between the possessive and the plural of our demonym.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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