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US Educational Scores Not So Abysmal

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the hooray-we-are-slightly-less-dumb-than-we-thought dept.

Education 412

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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Wait, so then what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610047)

So, we're worse overall because of our higher socio-economic classes? Or our lower socio-economic classes are better than other countries? or both?

Re:Wait, so then what? (5, Informative)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#42610091)

It's complicated. We're better off than countries where members of lower socioeconomic classes don't go to school. But our overall scores are lower than countries with better economic equality, because so many more of our citizens are in lower socioeconomic classes.

Re:Wait, so then what? (5, Funny)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | about 2 years ago | (#42610127)

It's complicated. We're better off than countries where members of lower socioeconomic classes don't go to school. But our overall scores are lower than countries with better economic equality, because so many more of our citizens are in lower socioeconomic classes.

It's simple. The scoring was done by American high school students. Obviously if it was corrected, things would be different =D

Re:Wait, so then what? (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42610199)

Short version is we're intentionally turning the USA into a 3rd world country including achievement, but forcing school attendance like a 1st world country.

Re:Wait, so then what? (0)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#42610595)

Yes, exactly. That's even shorter than my short version! :)

Re:Wait, so then what? (4, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | about 2 years ago | (#42610377)

And there's the key. Our scores ARE abysmal, it's just that much of the blame goes to our failure to address the socio-economic divide rather than to our educational system.

Re:Wait, so then what? (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 2 years ago | (#42610483)

It's simple. When you compare likes with likes (as far as socioeconomic class goes) the US is not any worse than other countries.

We look worse on the surface because (from TFA), "a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students comes from disadvantaged social class groups, whose performance is relatively low in every country."

Re:Wait, so then what? (2)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#42610643)

No, that's too simple. We actually are worse—we don't just look worse. But the reason we are worse is because we have a serious income inequality problem, not because our schools are bad.

Re:Wait, so then what? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610335)

In some countries, poor kids might not go to school, much less take the PISA test. Or, kids under a certain achievement standard might be taken outside of the public school system, skewing the sample. Extreme cases, like China for instance, might restrict testing to their wealthiest cities, or even hand-pick their test takers.

Re:Wait, so then what? (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 2 years ago | (#42610447)

We're worse overall because every a) Public School student are more likely to get tested, and b) since we've got high income inequality that means that we've got more poor kids then rich kids.

If you compare poor Swedish kids to poor Americans, average Swedes to average Americans, etc. we do fine. But due to a) you aren't comparing average Swedes to average Americans, you're comparing average Swedes to lower-middle-classish Americans, and due to b) we have a much larger lower-middle-classish cohort in the first place.

Can we speak in clear terms? (5, Interesting)

cpm99352 (939350) | about 2 years ago | (#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:Can we speak in clear terms? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610149)

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:Can we speak in clear terms? (2, Insightful)

kenh (9056) | about 2 years ago | (#42610433)

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

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (4, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (5, Insightful)

uniquename72 (1169497) | about 2 years ago | (#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:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

CurunirAran (2811035) | about 2 years ago | (#42610473)

Isn't that what's actually happening now? ;-)

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (3, Informative)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (3, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (3, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (5, Insightful)

LateArthurDent (1403947) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#42610529)

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)

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (5, Informative)

Bigby (659157) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 2 years ago | (#42610355)

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

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610365)

Exactly, they should find some manner of ranking like vs. like. It's not interesting to say that the US ranks below Canada because the US has a lot of poor kids. It is interesting to say whether the US ranks below or above Canada /among rich kids/ and /among poor kids/ separately. That will tell us something real about our system.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

znrt (2424692) | about 2 years ago | (#42610609)

Exactly, they should find some manner of ranking like vs. like. It's not interesting to say that the US ranks below Canada because the US has a lot of poor kids. It is interesting to say whether the US ranks below or above Canada /among rich kids/ and /among poor kids/ separately. That will tell us something real about our system.

so having lots of poor kids and shitty public education isn't something real? you're making it worse :-)

it's just a statistical study comparing education across countries, not social classes. it doesn't question how well prepared US elite might be, it evaluates the education system as a whole, and thus the sample needs to be representative of the whole population.

it's not so hard to understand. are you poor or what? xD

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about 2 years ago | (#42610683)

It's not interesting to say that the US ranks below Canada because the US has a lot of poor kids.

Huh? I'd say that's about the most important and interesting thing we can say about the situation.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

Silent Objection (948709) | about 2 years ago | (#42610463)

I agree with you that the difference in standards of living is fair game. It strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to say "well, assuming that unsavoury crowd over there wasn't dragging down our scores..." and that is what the review appears to be trying to do in some respects.

But check out the things in the "also noted" summary:

There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.

Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.

But the highest social class students in United States do worse than their peers in other nations, and this gap widened from 2000 to 2009 on the PISA.

U.S. PISA scores are depressed partly because of a sampling flaw resulting in a disproportionate number of students from high-poverty schools among the test-takers. About 40 percent of the PISA sample in the United States was drawn from schools where half or more of the students are eligible for the free lunch program, though only 23 percent of students nationwide attend such schools.

So it seems the point is that we actually aren't doing as badly as some like to insist, and that the future isn't quite so gloomy. Well, neither of those are resoundingly optimistic statements, but hey.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 2 years ago | (#42610531)

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.

Makes the data useful beyond bragging (1)

pavon (30274) | about 2 years ago | (#42610535)

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 give misleading results in favor of the rich school, even if the methods used by the poor school are superior. This is true whether you are comparing within a city or internationally. Therefore in order for results to be useful to evaluate educational programs, rather than just a chest pounding exercise, you must adjust for distribution of socioeconomic status.

I think you agree with the study (1)

LateArthurDent (1403947) | about 2 years ago | (#42610561)

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 population, because that's where the problem is.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610605)

The point is, if we are comparing the education system in America with that of other countries, with an eye towards how we might try to improve it, it is important to make a meaningful comparison. Decades of research shows that socioeconomic status correlates strongly with test scores. We need to adjust for these differences so we can tell if we need to change the American education system to be more like that of a higher-scoring country.

Re:Can we speak in clear terms? (1)

Zalbik (308903) | about 2 years ago | (#42610669)

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 may not be fixable solely by a change to the schools.

The study also indicates that certain portions of the test were weighted such that students in other countries did better than the US (higher weighting on number properties vs. algebra for instance), and that a larger % of US students were chosen from schools in a poor socioeconomic district than the national average.

But all this is in the FA, so I don't quite understand your comment.....

What he fuck is wrong with you? (2)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 2 years ago | (#42610073)

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

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#42610109)

Coulda fooled me.

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (0)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 2 years ago | (#42610291)

No, he's right. Some people love Classless societies where everyone is poor. Part of the whole Nobility of Poverty naivete

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 2 years ago | (#42610427)

Now you've got it, comrade!

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610597)

Yeah, because people are starving in the streets of poor egalitarian countries like Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, isn't that right?

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

mellon (7048) | about 2 years ago | (#42610655)

I don't know of any classless societies where everyone is poor. Can you cite an example?

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#42610153)

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

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

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | about 2 years ago | (#42610167)

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.

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#42610459)

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.

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (0)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 2 years ago | (#42610651)

And yet there is greater socioeconomic mobility in the US than in other places, such as Europe.

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#42610397)

Anybody posting on here from an inner city public school by chance? *chirp* anybody?

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 2 years ago | (#42610419)

That's not funny my brother died that way

Re:What he fuck is wrong with you? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#42610617)

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' economic situation and education level. There were bright but poor kids who went nowhere, and some rich idiots who went to Ivy League schools.

My dad also worked for a while in an inner city school. He mentioned that the kids that really succeeded there were the ones enrolled in Junior ROTC: The combination of self-discipline and an attainable goal made all sorts of difference. The kids who were trouble were the ones who knew they were going nowhere in life.

Wooooo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610079)

We're (almost, kinda) number four!

Summary Confusing (1)

Bigby (659157) | about 2 years ago | (#42610087)

"...: 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."

I read that 5 times and still don't understand it. Am I part of the reason the US is ranked low? Or is the writer of the summary?

Re:Summary Confusing (1)

znrt (2424692) | about 2 years ago | (#42610421)

"...: 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."

I read that 5 times and still don't understand it. Am I part of the reason the US is ranked low? Or is the writer of the summary?

basically the editor is proving that PISA has a point, regardless of Standford/EPI attempting to dodge the issue.

Re:Summary Confusing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610451)

The writer of the summery is writing in perfectly understandable english. Unless you are one of the sampled students, you (or the author, for that matter) have no bearing on the US ranking.

let me explain what the writer is saying:

PISA is based on a survey, not a census, which is to say, not all students take it. In doing this their selection criteria is such that 20% of lower-income students make up 40% of the tests surveyed. Lower income students tend to not score as well, so having them over-represented in the US numbers (compared to the number of actual students in that category) skews the statistics lower then they would be if they had just averaged all students in the US together. (the numbers here are a totally made up hypothetical to explain (one of) the point(s) of the article. Do not take them as accurate.)

As the venerable Sam Clemens quoted: "Lies, damned lies, and statistics"

Re:Summary Confusing (1)

Dahamma (304068) | about 2 years ago | (#42610461)

"...who are in the lower socio-economic classes."

The 2nd period in "U.S." is part of the abbreviation, not the end of the sentence. I think it's you. ;)

Re:Summary Confusing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610545)

Or, as Ann Coulter would say, 'we don't have an education problem, we have a demographic problem'.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/01/15/coulter-not-a-gun-problem-u-s-has-demographic-problem-with-non-whites/

Re:Summary Confusing (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 2 years ago | (#42610625)

It means poor American kids are more likely to be tested then rich American kids. OTOH poor Swedes/Finns/etc. are no more likely to be tested then their rich compatriots. Since poor kids suck at tests this means America is at a major disadvantage in these rankings.

It's OK then (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610089)

So if the US had not had a disproportionally large underprivileged underclass PISA scores would have looked better.

Unfortunately it does.

So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610099)

It's no secret that the US education system is a joke, regardless of our "place", we need to improve it.

Re:So what? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610189)

Unfortunately it's easier to come up with scapegoats than address real problems.

For example, see how many people will blame Teacher's Unions or the Federal Department of Education rather than question how much emphasis the local school board puts on Football stadiums.

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610599)

Don't forget the people blaming not enough money being thrown at the problem when the US is near the top in GDP% per student given to primary to secondary education.

Re:So what? (1)

overshoot (39700) | about 2 years ago | (#42610521)

It's no secret that the US education system is a joke, regardless of our "place", we need to improve it.

Uh, no. RTFA and all that, but the US Educational system does reasonably well to quite well -- when you control for exogenous factors such as kids who come to school ill-dressed, ill-fed, in poor health, sleep-deprived, etc. Other countries either don't send such kids to school at all (Turkey) or don't have nearly so many of them (Northern Europe.)

Re:So what? (2)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | about 2 years ago | (#42610657)

but the US Educational system does reasonably well to quite well

If its purpose is to give people an education, then I would disagree. There is far too much rote memorization and teaching to the test for that to occur.

If, on the other hand, its purpose is to have students memorize material and then spew it all back on a piece of paper, then I'm sure it does a reasonably good job.

Wait a second!1 (4, Funny)

Oh Gawwd Peak Oil (1000227) | about 2 years ago | (#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)

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | about 2 years ago | (#42610145)

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.

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

Oh Gawwd Peak Oil (1000227) | about 2 years ago | (#42610245)

Incidentally, did you know that the word "Whoosh" has been eliminated from Texas dictionaries?

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42610247)

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 ?

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

kenh (9056) | about 2 years ago | (#42610389)

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 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610265)

You are an idiot and do not understand rankings.
If the patriots have the top rated offence in the league, are they ranked 30th or 1st?
When Spain won the world cup, did they rise to 155th or 1st?

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

Oh Gawwd Peak Oil (1000227) | about 2 years ago | (#42610347)

Holy fuck, does no one on Slashdot understand jokes? Look at the number 1 replacing an exclamation point in the headline and the post. Then look at the line "(Goes back to reading Texas high school math book)." Does every joke have to be spelled out?

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#42610509)

I got your joke, but I had to read it all, and your wording did make me do a double take. I think you impersonated a troll a little too well.

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

Oh Gawwd Peak Oil (1000227) | about 2 years ago | (#42610547)

I guess I should have added a lot of extra exclamation points mixed with 1s, and put "Hurr Durr" at the end or something.

Re:Wait a second!1 (4, Interesting)

Fnordulicious (85996) | about 2 years ago | (#42610603)

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.

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

Fnordulicious (85996) | about 2 years ago | (#42610691)

BTW, I know you were joking, but it highlighted an interesting mental phenomenon that people don’t know much about. I thought it was a good chance to elaborate a bit.

Re:Wait a second!1 (1)

Oh Gawwd Peak Oil (1000227) | about 2 years ago | (#42610719)

Well, you certainly put a lot of effort into that reply. But please look at my responses to the other replies in this thread. I guess I just didn't add enough exclamation points and "Duh"s, or emphasize the "Texas high school math book" aspect enough, for most people to get the joke.

The Lie that Nobody tells (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610121)

I have lived in another country for a while while now.
What I have found is that schools will literally send pupils that would not test well home for the day while testing is being done.
Hence, the results are not quite as they have you think.

I am curious how wide spread this is.

Re:The Lie that Nobody tells (1)

Eightbitgnosis (1571875) | about 2 years ago | (#42610353)

A number of American teachers and principals have been caught changing grade, or giving out answers to standardized tests. Here's one such incident

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/scranton-school-board-reverses-discipline-in-standardized-test-cheating-probe-1.1429762

I'm not sure how wide spread this is, but it goes to show that similar things to what you described are occurring in America.

Re:The Lie that Nobody tells (1)

kenh (9056) | about 2 years ago | (#42610367)

Here in America teachers simply "correct" the answer forms [yahoo.com] to make sure their failure to educate the students goes unnoticed.

Re:The Lie that Nobody tells (2)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | about 2 years ago | (#42610583)

to make sure their failure to educate the students goes unnoticed.

It actually just proves that the teacher failed to teach to the test properly, not that tests have much to do with education.

Gaming the system (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#42610137)

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.

Re:Gaming the system (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | about 2 years ago | (#42610193)

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

I think this article very clearly underlines this.

Re:Gaming the system (2)

erikwestlund (1003368) | about 2 years ago | (#42610393)

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 Americans aren't fat?" No. American can still be fat (or dumb). They're just saying they might not be as relatively fat (or dumb) as they appear next to other countries.

Equal comparison groups constructed through randomization are the fundamental building block of medical research that saves lives by making causal inferences about treatments.

I won't fault some economists for trying to apply the same methodological standard to research in economics and education where randomization isn't so easy. It's good science.

Re:Gaming the system (1)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#42610635)

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 countries and "poor-people" (your words, not mine) better than we thought. This is not surprising since recently schools in the US have been concentrating on "no-child-left-behind" rather than preparing our most promising kids to compete against the world.

Of course different political views might view either way as a success or a failure. if you want to think about it with a game analogy, our bench players are getting better stats than the bench player on the other teams, but our super stars aren't performing very well relative to super stars on the other teams. The net result is that we aren't doing very well as measured by the number on the scoreboard. If your goal is simply win on the scoreboard, you will probably do what the other teams seem to do, leave some children behind and put your weight behind your stars...

I suppose in professional sports you'd fire the coach for this on the theory that you need new blood to turn things around but that is a political solution that I'm sure we won't exercise in this country (to follow this analogy, I'm sure the politically correct solution ends up where we'd end up paying the coach more and buy new equipment and find a better practice field).

The other professonal sports solution would probably be to fire the star players for not performing up to expectations and recruit some of those stars from other teams, but that sort of defeats the point of school wouldn't you say? (warning: that's a trick question as I think that is exactly what is happening in higher education in the US).

and writing ? (2)

richlv (778496) | about 2 years ago | (#42610161)

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

Capitalist lies! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610165)

All nations quake at the educational scores of the glorious Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

In fact this post was written by a Turing Machine designed by the dear leader himself.

That's depressing. (2)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#42610173)

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

Apples to Apples (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610187)

I've seen this argument before. The basic gist is that other countries don't try to educate everyone to the same level like the USA does. Therefore our tests include scores from every kid, while theirs only include scores from kids in the higher achievement educational tracks that are going to schools that administer such tests.

What the USA is attempting with their educational system is quite noble and idealistic, but it ends up making their students look bad on international tests like this.

Fast talk, no real results (1)

Jetra (2622687) | about 2 years ago | (#42610207)

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 memorization. In colleges, they teach you critical thinking. Both are completely different trains of thought and cannot be measured in numbers.

Not sure this really changes things (1)

dirk (87083) | about 2 years ago | (#42610217)

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 their top students and our poorest students do as poorly as their poorest students, but overall they have more students performing higher because they are more students in the higher categories. This means they overall performed better.

Re:Not sure this really changes things (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610475)

Having made the mistake of reading the article, I'm not sure this really changes anything.

Is this your US school learned reading comprehension on display? They are also talking about sampling bias which would very much change things.

Re:Not sure this really changes things (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#42610619)

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 the US, however, only 3 rich kids take the test and 7 poor kids take the test.

Because poor kids will always skew lower, the US looks like it is not as good as country A.

What I don't know is why they say the ratio of poor to rich kids is higher in the US, but it could just be an artifact of how the test is administered. The US may be more interested in measuring poor children's performance.

Re:Not sure this really changes things (1)

overshoot (39700) | about 2 years ago | (#42610627)

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 our neofeudal politicoeconomic system, which sends lots of kids to school totally unprepared (not to mention ill-fed, poorly clothed, cold, sick, etc.) The objective being to justify reducing the resources provided to those same school systems.

Dancing around race issue? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610251)

Nobody wanted to say, "the US looks bad because of all the inner city Blacks". They went looking for people with similar socio-economic backgrounds in the countries that were thrashing us. Then they did a comparison that was more apples-to-apples and voila! We don't look so bad.

Re:Dancing around race issue? (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#42610699)

It's not even that. I think they are giving the tests to more poor kids than rich kids. So if you have a bunch of rich kids who would do well, they aren't taking the test to be counted.

It's more of who is taking the test, rather than what classes exist. It is understood that most countries have rich and poor to some degree.

Not all schools give all tests. They are suggesting that many rich/middle class kids are not taking this test. And I can see why in the US, they might want to test inner city/rural poor kids more, but that's just speculation on my part.

Similar to healthcare? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610275)

I like apparently many people don't really understand the headline. What i'm assuming is, it's similar to the "USA Has Best Healthcare"...

Yes, you do, but it's only available to a small percentage of society.

US Ed system ok, socio-economic disparity bad. (1)

felixmeister (75484) | about 2 years ago | (#42610281)

So what is being done in the US education system has improved the performance of those less fortunate.
But because of a widening socio-economic disparity the overall performance is decreasing.
I think the biggest lesson is to continue the improvements in the Ed system but look towards narrowing the gap between the higher and lower social 'classes'.

Shocking! (5, Funny)

kenh (9056) | about 2 years ago | (#42610287)

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

That is amazing!

Re:Shocking! (1)

Bigby (659157) | about 2 years ago | (#42610443)

If America is given the same ratio of higher to lower socioeconomic pupils, America scores better. Each country should be assigned a ratio that represents the real ratio of pupils. I am guessing the article is challenging that America's ratios do not match. If they are arguing that the ratio should be the same between countries, then they are arguing for a different poll. Which America would score VERY well in. Something like, how good are your top 10% students?

Re:Shocking! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610519)

Well there are schools where many students don't take learning seriously and disrupt classes making it hard for those who try. When kids aren't even trying to get an education, is it a failure of the schools or the kids or the parents?

Yeah, right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610331)

We don't know what the true demographics are in the US, because US census takes are too unreliable and the US only reports on those unemployed who are employable, insured and collecting.

We do, however, know that US education leaves students bitter and cynical about schools, that many feel they went to school for indoctrination, to learn useless factoids or to be out of the way of adults until grown up. Extremely few students feel they went to school to learn about how to learn, study and reason. SAT tests do not look at your ability to think, they look at your ability to regurgitate. Universities that grade according to attendance can tell you who turned up, but not who tuned in.

Conclusion: Schools in the US are not teaching useful material and deserve their low rank - and possibly deserve an even lower one. Education in the US is simply not acceptable.

Failure is OK as long as the reason is known (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610423)

So, it's OK that Americans are achieving less academically than other countries because the reason is known and can be controlled for in studies, removing the reason and its consequences as a source of difference in the comparisons?

How about if we found that poor teachers result in poor academic outcomes? Would they say that American academic outcomes are not worse than those of other countries because, once you control for the preponderance of poor teachers in America, the outcomes are the same?

Once you ignore the poor... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610431)

...we start looking pretty good!

Does it matter? (2)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (3, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | about 2 years ago | (#42610667)

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

Education isn't free everywhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42610681)

Even in the developed world the education isn't free. One example: South Korea. Only the elementary education is provided at no charge. It would be unfair to compare US which provides free education up to high school level to one like South Korea where unexceptional poor students are out of the education system by high school.

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