The clearest young scribe at the Washington Post!

MONDAY, MAY 20, 2013

Even she gets fooled by one of the press corps’ scams: This weekend’s clearest, cleanest writer was a college freshman.

We refer to Sharon Liao, who wrote this very clear, sincere op-ed column in Saturday’s Washington Post.

Liao is finishing her freshman year at Columbia. She wants to go into K-12 teaching, though people keep telling her not to.

Did we mention how sincere, how clear Liao’s writing is? When you read a piece like this, you know it came from outside. But even there, we have to report that Liao got fooled by one the press corps’ scams:
LIAO (5/18/13): Part of the problem is systemic, and part of it is cultural. It isn’t just about money: Teachers fall too low within our professional hierarchy. They ought to command more respect. In China, where my parents grew up, teachers are addressed as laoshi, or “old master,” a reverent term of dignity and authority. Is it surprising that Asian and Scandinavian countries, where teachers are well-compensated and treated with dignity, show higher levels of student achievement than the United States?
In that unfortunate passage, even this very bright, sincere young person got conned by one of our leading scams.

Is it true? Do Scandinavian countries “show higher levels of student achievement than the United States?” On balance, no—they do not.

Liao may be thinking of Finland. But according to the world’s leading authority on Scandinavia, the Scandinavian countries are Denmark, Norway and Sweden. According to this leading authority, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Finland sometimes get thrown into the mix, perhaps a bit inaccurately.

Whatever! A reader of this very fine op-ed column might get the impression that American students are typically outscored by their counterparts in those 3-5 countries.

This belief is a result of the scam. This journalistic scam is so widespread that even an inspiring young person like Liao can get conned.

Needless to say, no editor helped Liao out with a simple fact-check. On Saturday, we performed that check, looking at recent international tests.

This is what we found:

On the 2011 TIMSS, U.S. students always outscored their Scandinavian peers, unless you want to count Finland. To the extent that the relevant nations took part, these were the scores in math:
TIMSS 2011 math, Grade 4:
Finland 545*
United States 541
Denmark 537*
Sweden 504
Norway 495

TIMSS 2011 math, Grade 8:
Finland 514*
United States 509
Sweden 484
Norway 475
An asterisk means that the score in question was considered statistically indistinguishable from the American score. These were the scores in science:
TIMSS 2011 science, Grade 4:
Finland 570
United States 544
Sweden 533
Denmark 528
Norway 494

TIMSS 2011 science, Grade 8:
Finland 552
United States 525
Sweden 509
Norway 494
As you can see, the United States outscored all the true Scandinavian countries. Finland outscored the U.S., though by very small margins in math.

Below, you see the scores from the 2011 PIRLS:
PIRLS 2011 reading, Grade 4:
Finland 568
United States 556
Denmark 554*
Sweden 542
Norway 507
Liao’s mistaken assumption to the side, students from Denmark, Sweden and Norway continued to eat U.S. dust.

Iceland took part in the 2009 PISA. Among all these recent international tests, the math component of the PISA is the only one in which a Scandinavian country outscored the United States by a margin rated as significant:
PISA 2009 reading:
Finland 536
Norway 503*
United States 500
Iceland 500*
Sweden 497*
Denmark 495*

PISA 2009 math:
Finland 541
Iceland 507
Denmark 503
Norway 498
Sweden 494*
United States 487

PISA 2009 science:
Finland 554
United States 502
Norway 500*
Denmark 499*
Iceland 496*
Sweden 495*
In recent international test, the United States tends to be outscored by Finland, sometimes by substantial margins. But American students have almost always outscored their peers in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

Liao wrote a very impressive piece. You knew as soon as you started reading that it simply couldn’t have come from within the Post orbit. It’s very rare to read a piece which is so plainly sincere.

Basically, that’s our point! Our journalistic scams are so ubiquitous that even this very bright, sincere young person got fooled by this particular Mandated Bogus Group Tale.

In recent decades, the bogus scripts of our mainstream “press corps” have fooled even the best among us. If an smart young person like Liao can get tooken, what chance do the rest of us have?


  1. Liao also appears wrong when she implies that American teachers are relatively poorly paid:

    It isn’t just about money... Asian and Scandinavian countries, where teachers are well-compensated...

    An article in the New York Times shows that public elementary school teachers in the US are paid more than their counterparts in Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The link also shows teacher salaries as a % of per capita GNP. On this basis, American teachers still do better than Sweden, Iceland, and Norway.

    However, she is partly correct. Teachers are better paid in Japan and South Korea.

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  3. 'An article in the New York Times shows that public elementary school teachers in the US are paid more than their counterparts in Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.'

    The article also noted that US teachers have more classroom instructional hours than teachers in other countries. When pay is calculated per teaching hours, then US teachers don't fare so well.

    'The link also shows teacher salaries as a % of per capita GNP. On this basis, American teachers still do better than Sweden, Iceland, and Norway.'

    Sweden, Iceland, and Norway all have more equitable income distribution curves than the US, whose 1% outliers make our per capita income look deceptively high. It would be more informative to compare the incomes of teachers against other middle-class white collar occupations in various countries to get a truer picture of the competitiveness of teacher salaries.

    1. "It would be more informative..."

      Yes, it would be more informative.

      But David in California doesn't care. He's a troll.

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  6. Here's what David in Cal did NOT say, and this comes straight frpm the link he cited:

    "in the United States teachers generally spend more time teaching but apparently without an equivalent advantage in pay."

    "American teachers spend on average 1,080 hours teaching each year. Across the O.E.C.D., the average is 794 hours on primary education, 709 hours on lower secondary education, and 653 hours on upper secondary education general programs"

    [Note to David: that's a HUGE disparity.].

    "American teachers’ pay is more middling."

    "Comparing each country’s teacher salaries to the wealth of that country makes United States educational salaries appear lower. In the United States, a teacher with 15 years of experience makes a salary that is 96 percent of the country’s gross domestic product per capita. Across the O.E.C.D., a teacher of equivalent experience makes 117 percent of G.D.P. per capita. At the high end of the scale, in Korea, the average teacher at this level makes a full 221 percent of the country’s G.D.P. per capita"

    [Note to David: this is te relevant comparison, and again, there's a BIG disparity.

  7. As Bob Somerby notes, public education in the United States - overall - is pretty darned good, and that’s especially true when considering that the student population has become much more diverse, and much poorer, than it was, say, three decades ago, when A Nation at Risk as published.

    A Nation at Risk was the Reagan-era screed that warned a “rising tide of mediocrity” threatened American national security. The astounding thing was that people believed it, and the mainstream press kept reporting its errors. But then, people - and politicians - bought into Reagan’s silly supply-side economic ideas too, and the result was a quadrupling of the national (from 1980 to 1992) debt, which had taken 200 hundred years to accumulate.

    [and people - and politicians - bought into Bush’s mythical weapons of mass destruction in what cost?]

    The Sandia National Labs investigated the allegations contained in A Nation at Risk, and debunked them all.

    The Sandia Report (Journal of Educational Research, May/June, 1993), published in the wake of A Nation at Risk, concluded that:

    * "..on nearly every measure we found steady or slightly improving trends."

    * "youth today [the 1980s] are choosing natural science and engineering degrees at a higher rate than their peers of the 1960s."

    * "business leaders surveyed are generally satisfied with the skill levels of their employees, and the problems that do exist do not appear to point to the k-12 education system as a root cause."

    * "The student performance data clearly indicate that today's youth are achieving levels of education at least as high as any previous generation."

    The critics, however, kept on with the distortions and lies. More states enacted "rigorous standards" and high-stakes testing. No Child Left Behind mandated even more testing, and punishments. The critics, increasingly funded by conservative foundations and corporations anxious to divert attention from their own failures and complicity in causing the near-fatal breakdown of the economy, continue today with their attacks.

    Yet, the “data” contradicts their arguments. And the “data” goes mostly unreported by the mainstream press. It’s almost as though the majority of mainstream education reporters ingest a “stupid” pill before writing their articles or columns (Jay Mathews at The Post is a prime example...or amble on over to The Educated Reporter website).

    As Bob notes, “the bogus scripts of our mainstream ‘press corps’ have fooled even the best among us.”

    He asks, “If an smart young person like Liao can get tooken, what chance do the rest of us have?”

    1. Maybe she’s not that “smart.”
    2. We have to THINK about what we read.
    3. We have to keep telling the truth about public education, before the corporate “reformers” privatize it.

    You are doing your part, Bob. And then some.

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