"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New TIMSS Results--and Bracey Blogs It

From the New York Times:

American fourth- and eighth-grade students made solid achievement gains in math in recent years and in two states showed spectacular progress, an international survey of student achievement released on Tuesday found. Science performance was flat.

The results showed that several Asian countries continued to outperform the United States greatly in science and math, subjects that are crucial to economic competitiveness and research. . . .

And Bracey has the so what at HuffPo. My favorite part:

. . . .But really, does the fate of the nation rest on how well 9- and 13-year-olds bubble in answer sheets? I don't think so. Neither does British economist, S. J. Prais. We look at the test scores and worry about the nation's economic performance. Prais looks at the economic performance and worries about the validity of the test scores: "That the United States, the world's top economic performing country, was found to have school attainments that are only middling casts fundamental doubts about the value and approach of these [international assessments]."

Third, even if comparisons of average test scores were a meaningful exercise, it only looks at one dimension--the supply side. Predictably, the results gave rise to calls for more spending on science instruction. This ignores the fact that we have more scientists and engineers than we can absorb. In one study, Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University and Harold Salzman of the Urban Institute found that we mint three new engineers for every new job (this is from permanent residents and citizens, not foreigners). More disturbing was the attrition rate. While educators fret over losing 50% of teachers in 5 years (and well they should), Lowell and Salzman found that engineering loses 65% in two years. Why? Low pay, lousy working conditions, little chance for advancement. American schools of engineering are dominated by foreigners because only people from third world nations can view our jobs as attractive. In fact, long-time science writer, Dan Greenberg, invented a new position for those emerging with Ph.D.'s: post-doc emeritus.

Schools are doing a great job on the supply side. Business and industry are doing a lousy job on the demand side. The oil industry, responding to increased demand for oil exploration raised the entry-level salaries for petroleum engineers by 30-60%. The number of students lining up to be petroleum engineers has doubled and enrollment at Texas Tech has increased sixfold. . . .


  1. Anonymous11:05 PM

    Very interesting thoughts, it makes me wonder the fate of our country and how we can absorb these people into our economy. One thing I thing we have done wrong is, we have not been builder in infrastructure. For example energy, we have been letting other countries pump oil for us while we have been doing nothing. The same for the medical industry, there has been a lot of reluctance from the Bush Administration and other government officials to develop stem cell research. How are we going to be competitive in a global market, much less pay engineers and scientist when all we’re doing is punishing success? That just my thoughts…

  2. Anonymous11:07 AM

    The Supply-Side comment is especially apropos regarding Public Schools----Everything we are forced to do and consider in the name of "reform" is totally and solely on the *supply side*.

    Kids & Families=The DEMAND side.

    Present School "reform" ignores the DEMAND SIDE entirely, as if families were uniform "widgets" whose varied problems, obstacles,
    level-of-functioning and concerns are
    NON-EXISTENT and not a factor in Education
    at all.

    Supply-side economics has failed, utterly.

    Why don't we see supply-side education reform
    the same way, when it is failing even more spectacularly than in economics??

    America Educational Policy (with NCLB and some truly awful state mandates that are similar) is so obtuse,impractical and narcissistic that
    students and families, along with teachers, are completely OUTSIDE THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS and are seen, and TREATED, as minions and widgets rather than as REAL PEOPLE who actually have a stake in the educational process.

    Please ignore the phony doublespeak of Business-Roundtable languaging ("stakeholders", "accountable talk",
    "data", etc etc etc)---It is just a flimsy cover for vacuous policies that are DESTROYING PUBLIC EDUCATION, day-by-day in this country, just so Billion$ of taxpayer money$ can be stolen by Charter School privatizers and
    their criminal ilk.


  3. Well, Nikto certainly doesn't lack for passion on this subject. Though he does lack a great deal of sense.

    The premise of the entire story is false, and creates a false argument in the arena of education. Test scores are not the product, they are just an indicator of education quality. One of the essential problems with public education is that they do nothing with the data learned from testing and that is one of the main reasons why public schooling fails.

    NCLB, Charter schools, and administration policies are not 'Destroying' public education. Public education has been one continuous implosion for more than 50 years because its organization and operation fail to adhere to the basic tenets of training individuals.

    It is the daily betrayal of the public school students which is criminal. Charter schools are not much better, so don't think I'm playing a tune from that band wagon.

    He is correct in the statement of current reform ignoring a side of the equation. But that is typical of political intrusion into any sector of activity. They forge policy largely around public opinion and what sounds or seems good and proper. Politicians don't evalutate a situation to solve it, they take action to make themselves look good so as to win elections.

    Having said that, policy laid down by the feds usually has enough loopholes in it that special interests will have their way around the law. NCLB is no exception. 7 years in and there is still abject failure in the system, but where is the accountability? I can name half a dozen schools in any one of a dozen districts nationwide that have been on the 'needs improvement' list for 5+ years and no sanctions have been enacted. Yet the law calls for removal of management and state take over of the schools.
    (pst, this is secret...the states don't want to take over the schools because they would lose all credibility if any school were taken over and did not improve. They fear to do it because they don't know how to solve the problem either...shhh.)

    Do you know of any teachers sanctioned or removed because of NCLB? If you do, I'll bet that there are a lot less than the number who have lost their jobs due to sexual activities with students during the same time period.