Thursday, September 01, 2011

Maybe The Schools Are Okay

Whenever I'm linking to Sailer or VDare, people might already be prepared to wince, because it tends to be info that if true, we might keep quiet about anyway. I absolutely get that. People have decent, kind, smart, hardworking friends who they don't want to come even close to offending. They would poke out an eye before letting a friend think "Does he really think that" But there are local policy decisions all over the country that flow from this. Improving schools is good, but punishing teachers and schools for wrong reasons doesn't get us very far. We have had repeated national panics and complaints as long as I can remember about the schools, and all the bad, stupid stuff we doing.

Yet what if our schools are doing a better job than any other country in the world, but we are just measuring wrongly? What if all those other countries aren't eating our lunch? What if we were #1, or at least consistently in the top few, in educating our children? Wouldn't our rhetoric and solutions be different?

Here are the data on the primary international test. The short version (qualifiers below) is that Asian-American students outscore Asian countries/regions; White American students outscore all those white European countries: American Hispanics outscore all Latin American countries; African-Americans outscore African and Caribbean nations.

 Qualifiers: Shanghai, and sometimes Singapore and one of the coastal provinces of China are roughly the same as Asian-Americans, who are largely descended from those areas.

Finland and New Zealand may be a little ahead of white Americans.

No African nations compete, so the comparison data is sketchy. But as best as we can tell, African Americans outscore all other blacks in the world, probably by a large margin.

Maybe Sailer is wrong, badly wrong, not just because we don't like the implications but because he has made major errors. Fine, then. But if he's even close to right, then what are all these federal initiatives and school programs even about? And why are are we forever kicking millions of teachers teachers as if they have made some major screwups, letting down the nation and the kids, if it's just not true?

 Interesting tidbit: the Finnish schools are apparently very laid back, the NE Asian schools rigorous and intense, but both produce excellent students.


Dubbahdee said...

This idea of measuring the wrong thing is huge. Here is a more basic and prosaic example, but perhaps illustrative:

In my work selling appliances, I helps customers select a new refrigerator. I always ask about measurements because purchasing a refrigerator that won't fit into the allotted space will harsh your bliss faster than your lettuce can freeze.

The customer will often hand me an envelope or some piece of scrap paper on which the numbers are scribbled, assuring me they have measured. At that point, I must clarify. "

"Did you measure the old refrigerator, or the space it is going into?"

You would be surprised at how many measure the refrigerator in spite of the fact that those measurements are almost useless in selecting a new unit made 15 years after the old unit. I often must send them home to measure the space.

I suspect we make a similar mistake in education and other areas. While our measurements are accurate, they aren't measuring the most important things.

Diver said...

You are proposing that the A&H tribe abandon a zealously upheld religious conviction that they have leveraged into power, money and jobs. Do you really hope they'll let all that go just because it isn't true?

terri said...


I'm confused about your comment. In my experience conservatives are the ones who largely bash the public school system, teachers, and large-scale educational theories.

In what way is the A&H tribe behind the severe criticism of our schools?

I see the "schools are failing" idea as more of an automatic reflexive reaction of people on either side of the political spectrum...though there are usually differences in how that theme gets interpreted.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, one of my complaints about conservatives is their insistence that schools can be improved by nostalgia. OTOH, it is indeed education bureaucracy that keeps coming up with programs that are supposed to fix everything, but seem to cost much and fix little.

GWB getting on the Teddy Kennedy NCLB bandwagon comes to mind. Though George did seem to believe in it beyond the mere political consideration of giving Democrats something, to his discredit.

Texan99 said...

Charles Murray maintains that we're doing a pretty good job on average students, that no system is likely to do all that much for the least able students, and that the only students really getting shortchanged are the brightest ones. He claims that most complaints about our schools fail to take into account that the system is more inclusive than it used to be, which inevitably means that the average student today will compare unfavorably to the average student in earlier times, when many children essentially were dropped out of the education system, especially at the college level.