Tuesday, December 31, 2019

They Almost Got It

The Los Angeles Times recently published an opinion piece blaming the US's low ranking on international academic tests on--you guessed it!--poverty:
But if Finland, Singapore and South Korea are all doing better than we are, that suggests there may be a factor at play other than how we teach. And indeed there is something that all three of these nations, and every other country that outranks the United States on the PISA test, have in common: lower rates of child poverty. And poverty is a major factor in how well students perform on the tests...

A 2013 study by Stanford University researchers found that the U.S. would rank much higher on the PISA test if it weren’t for its higher levels of socioeconomic inequality.

“Because in every country, students at the bottom of the social class distribution perform worse than students higher in that distribution, U.S. average performance appears to be relatively low partly because we have so many more test takers from the bottom of the social class distribution,” the study concluded...
There is something different between the US and those other countries, but will the author figure it out?  Will the author's ideological blinders allow him/her/them to see it?
This is not to let the education system off the hook. One way in which poverty affects educational attainment is that low-income students tend to attend schools with fewer resources and lower expectations. And there are countries where the poorest students fare better than that same group in the United States.
Ah, swing and a miss!  Why are there "countries where the poorest students fare better than that same group in the United States", one might ask?  The answer is simple, and if you've read this blog for any length of time you know what I'm going to tell you that answer is.

One word:  culture.


Pseudotsuga said...

Could the answer be that Finland and South Korea, at least, are nearly completely monocultural? There is little diversity (as the left keeps going on about) in those countries. They must therefore be failures.
Singapore, I understand, is a mix of a few different peoples (Malaysian, Chinese, etc.), but I don't know how "singular" the overall culture is.

Darren said...

How much does the culture (of the family, community, country) value education?

orangemath said...

The PISA test may actually show how superb or different the US system is.

Please review this Hechinger post from Dec 16. Click https://www.evernote.com/shard/s11/sh/2bb12d83-3d27-429f-adf2-3bf64eb9098b/9594337dce13f5e779abf903e164b2d3 (my copy) and jump to the paragraph starting with "But the inequality story is a nuanced one."

Continue for six paragraphs. Make sure you understand the sketch by Dr. Ikeda.

Pseudotsuga said...

The culture in Korea (like Japan) still values education as THE thing that kids need to do, and to excel in. High school is high pressure in those countries, since your placement in exams indicates what university you can attend. And your parents drive you HARD, because having a child that makes it into Seoul or Tokyo national universities (the top schools) means the world to the family. And if you disappoint your parents....Suicides are not unknown for that.
In Korea and Japan, high school is hell, as you study, study, practice, practice for those placement exams. However, university is a LOT less pressure. In those Asian societies, built upon years of Confucianism, it is whom you attend university with who become your business clients, partners, etc.

Singapore may be similar, but I have no personal knowledge for that.
I do not know how hard Finnish families drive for education.

Anonymous said...

Something important to remember - relative poverty (the measure of poverty that is cited in the LA Times article) is very different from absolute poverty, and a far poorer measure. While the US may have more children in relative poverty than South Korea, our poverty line (around $25,750 for a household of four) is quite a bit higher than South Korea’s (approximately $8,283 for a household). So it is misleading to state that more American than South Korean children live in poverty - and keep in mind South Korea’s poor are very well off compared to most of the world. In my native country, Ghana, the median household income is $2,050, with those below the poverty line earning much less. Does it make any sense for Unicef to state (as they do) that 29% of American vs 24% of Latvian children live in poverty, when the US has a median household income (using purchasing power parity to be as accurate as possible) of $43,585 while Latvia has a median household income of $10,461? In Ghana to be poor is to be thin and constantly hungry and perhaps slowly dying from starvation. It means that you have no shoes and no roof to keep the rain out. In the US children in “poverty” have a personal iPhone as well as an iPad and are obese, although their parents do struggle to afford childcare and pay rent. It is ridiculous to compare the two situations, and to use our version of poverty to excuse poor performance. Poor children in the US perform worse because they have access to worse schools and because their culture does not value hard work and education, not simply because they are poor.

Vietnam, with a measly median household income of $4,783, way outperformed the US. Poverty (with the exception of extreme poverty that causes hunger, etc), is not the cause of poor educational performance.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember reading that, in Singapore, the ethnic Chinese do better than the Malays. Culture again?

I find comparisons between us and Finland to be less than helpful. Not only are Finnish schools homogeneous (like Korea, Japan and the high-performing Chinese areas) filled with Finns, the population of Finland is smaller than that of New York City.

Poverty is not the problem - or poor Asian kids, perhaps not speaking English at home, would not be succeeding in the same schools where far too many non-Asian minorities remain illiterate and innumerate. Many escape to gifted programs as fast as they can.