Thursday, January 13, 2011

Americans Still Aren't Doing Great On International Tests


The news last week that Shanghai students achieved the top scores in math on the international PISA exam was for some of us not exactly a wake-up call (as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan characterized it) or a Sputnik moment (as President Obama called it).

We've seen this result before. We've seen the reactions and the theories and the excuses that purport to explain why the US does so poorly in math. In fact, there are three main variations used to explain why Chinese/Asian students do so well in international exams:

· Version 1: They are taught using rote learning and then regurgitate the results on exams that test how well they memorize the procedures of how to solve specific problems.

· Version 2: They are taught using the reform methods of a "problem based approach" that doesn't rely on drills, and instills critical thinking and higher order thinking skills

· Version 3: The teacher or the culture produces the proper conditions for learning

It’s hard to know where to start with these, so let’s take them in order.

I disagree with him somewhat on version 3, as some cultures do value education more than others. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the upper classes of our own society put more emphasis on education than do the lower classes, and it's not a stretch to say that some national cultures put more emphasis on education than do other national cultures.

1 comment:

Ellen K said...

Students in many Asian cultures are taught to respect education. The top of the economic food chain is being a doctor, which is why so many Asian students aspire to medical professions. But teachers are also revered as sources of learning and schools are respected. Most traditional Asian families would not tolerate a student doing anything that would shame the family, including failing classes. This type of pressure can be oppressive. I have known students whose parents refused to attend graduation because they were not in the top ten students. I have also known students who were totally unsuited to technical professions to go to college for those degrees because it was expected.Compare that to our "everybody wins" society where esteem trumps ability and you have a clear indication of why students in other countries do better-because it is expected.