Thursday, April 3, 2014

"That's Just The Way It Is" Internationally In American Education

America has had trouble coming out in first place internationally in the field of education recently. 

The losing streak was beginning to show hope of fading after a report came out that supposedly highlighted how well America had done with problem solving skills. The idea, reported in the media, was asserting that American students were better at problem-solving and flexibility skills than students in other countries. 

Then I saw an article  in The New York Times called "American Students Test Well in Problem Solving, but Trail Foreign Counterparts." Note that even a subordinate clause in the title says that it really trails other nations. Yet NPR radio in reports had made it sound as if this result was a shining achievement of American education, when in reality, America trailed even here Singapore, South Korea, Japan, several provinces of China, Canada, Australia, Finland and Britain. And this was hailed by an American politician as a relatively "strong suit." It was hoped that the value of flexible thinking would redeem the weakness of American education, but it turns out the improvement was decided as only minor. Excuses were given to explain the higher standing of foreign countries, such as the emphasis on rote learning of facts and formulas in Asian countries. 

The topic fascinated me and I decided to look further into the 2012 scores of the Program of International Student Assessment (P.I.S.A.) published in December 2013 and only now being reported in the popular press. America's losing streak appears to be continuing however the press wants to spin it.

In this article in the Washington Post article mathematics:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 27 education systems, higher than 22 education systems, and not measurably different than 13 education systems."

In science literacy, a similar story:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 17 education systems, higher than 27 education systems, and not measurably different than 15 education systems."

Even reading literacy wasn't exceptional:
"The U.S. percentage was lower than 14 education systems, higher than 33 education systems, and not measurably different than 12 education systems."

Where, besides Sarah Palin, do Americans get the idea of American exceptionalism, or of America as the hub where people must be seen and live to become "known"?  Exceptionalism doesn't appear to have any basis in reality if these test results are any guide. If any American students go to university primarily to play sports instead of to learn academic studies, then I don't suppose anything will ever change and their standings will never improve except in the unreal world of American propaganda. 

According to this article in The Atlantic magazine:
"The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S. spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000."

Worse, even the advanced state of Massachusetts lags two years behind Singapore at the high school level, so that foreign students fall behind if they attend American high schools, and have a huge advantage if they attend American universities. This education failure sadly is an old refrain, and I hope to have a more optimistic tone, as I usually do have, in my next post. 

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