AMANDA RIPLEY’S BELIEF IT BY LAW: Admittedly, a talented writer!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2013

Part 3—With a weak intellectual culture: This past Sunday, the Washington Post gave major play to Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World.

A cynic would say it’s easy to see why the Post did that. Jay Mathews’ review of the book topped the front page of the Post’s Outlook section. Mathews, a nationally known education writer, drew a conclusion from Ripley’s new book which extended a treasured Post theme.

(“The most consistent U.S. failing Ripley discovers is our way of selecting and training teachers.”)

That’s what a cynic would say about the high profile this book received from the Post. On the other hand, a fair-minded person might compliment Mathews on the somewhat murky way he ended his review of the book.

The PISA is the international testing program around whose findings Ripley builds her book. Mathews ends like this:
MATHEWS (9/22/13): Ripley seems to realize toward the end that she put too much faith in the PISA as a measure of creativity and critical thinking, a controversial issue among experts. Upbeat statements about the test tend to disappear later in the book. What the PISA is measuring is probably not creativity. If you believe the exam does capture that elusive quality, then you have to accept the notion that it can be pounded into students as is done in South Korea.

One thing the PISA almost certainly assesses is how much students know. In countries that want them to learn about the world, students get higher scores. They need that command of content, as educators put it, or they won’t have anything to be creative about.

Ripley rightly concludes that we need “a serious intellectual culture in schools.” But watch cable news, eavesdrop in a student cafeteria or attend a local PTA meeting, and you will see that such a culture is something that so far doesn’t interest us much.
We’ll agree with Ripley, a hundred times over. This country would gain from “a serious intellectual culture in schools.” (Our schools would also gain from cultures of enjoyment and exploration.)

As he rolls his eyes at cable news and the rest, Mathews seems to suggest, at the end of his piece, that our whole country lacks “a serious intellectual culture.” Before he aims this barb at American students and PTA members, we would suggest that the gent try healing himself—and the talented Ripley too.

Early on in his review, Mathews describes Ripley as “a talented writer.” We’ll agree with that assessment, though only up to a point. Ripley’s book is very readable, loaded as it is with human interest about a very small number of exchange students and their teachers and principals.

There are favorable things to be said about Ripley’s book. But from what “intellectual culture” has this book, and Mathews’ review of it, sprung?

Consider the second page of The Smartest Kids in the World, where Ripley lays out her basic framework. Why did she decide to write a book about education, a topic she rather snootily says she once found, “well, kind of soft?”

(Did you see the talented writing there?)

Why did Ripley change her mind? What made her decide to write a book about education? The talented writer posts a chart, which she describes in this manner:
RIPLEY (page 2): Then one day I saw this chart, and it blew my mind.

The United States might have stayed flat over time, but that was the exception, it turned out. Look at Finland! It had rocketed from the bottom to the top of the world, without pausing for breath. And what was going on in Norway, right next door, which seemed to be slip sliding into the abyss, despite having virtually no child poverty? And there was Canada, careening up from mediocrity to the heights of Japan. If education was a function of culture, could culture change that dramatically—that fast?
This is our introduction to miraculous Finland, one of the three countries Ripley explores in her book. According to Ripley, the chart which blew her mind shows the small but miraculous Nordic nation “rocket[ing] from the bottom to the top of the world, without pausing for breath.”

The chart to which Ripley refers appears next door, on page 3. But uh-oh! Quite plainly, it doesn’t show miraculous Finland doing any such thing.

Anyone who looks at this chart can see that Ripley’s description of Finland’s rocket trip is grossly, dramatically wrong. Within what sort of “intellectual culture” do such errors reside?

The chart to which Ripley refers is, within the context of her book, largely useless. Ripley’s caption for the chart reads as follows:
RIPLEY (page 3): Dance of the Nations: Over a half century, different countries gave eighteen different tests to their children. Economists Ludger Woessmann and Eric Hanushek projected kids’ performance onto a common measuring stick. The results suggest that education levels can—and do—change dramatically over time, for better and worse.
We don’t mean this as a criticism of Woessmann and Hanushek’s work. Their chart may well make perfect sense, once it has been explained.

But within the context of Ripley’s book, the chart is never explained. For that reason, it is basically impossible to interpret. On its vertical axis, it shows a scale of scores from those “eighteen different tests” which extends from 460 up to 560. Recorded scores for the fifteen nations extend from a low score of roughly 470 to a high of perhaps 555.

Along its horizontal axis, the time frame of the chart extends from 1965 to 2009.

At no point does Ripley explain what those test scores mean. More precisely, she makes no attempt to explain how large the observable score gains actually are in practice. If a nation moves from a score of 480 to a score of 520, does that correspond to a large change in learning and academic skill? Or is such a score change just a minor blip?

Without some attempt to answer those questions, we can see nations moving up and down on the “test score” scale, but we have no idea if the changes involved are significant. Similarly, we have no way to estimate the size of the gaps in learning and achievement between the fifteen nations.

More significant is what we plainly can see concerning miraculous Finland.

According to Ripley, miraculous Finland “rocketed from the bottom to the top of the world, without pausing for breath.” It was this type of miraculous change which created Ripley’s interest in talentedly writing about education!

But uh-oh! On this largely unexplained chart, Finland is never anywhere near the bottom of the world. On a murkily undifferentiated curve, Finland is shown in the 1960s and 1970s scoring at levels which few other countries on the chart have achieved even today.

Uh-oh! If this chart means what it seems to mean, Finland seems to have been at the top of the world, among these countries, from the earliest days of national and international testing. According to Ripley’s chart, only Japan and Belgium outscored Finland back in the 1960s. Only Japan outscored Finland in the 1970s.

Finland’s scores have improved over time, from roughly 510 in those earlier decades to roughly 545 today. But there is no way of knowing how much extra learning is represented by that type of score gain. And Ripley’s basic account of Finland’s history seems to be flagrantly wrong:

Sorry, Chaarli! If we go by this largely unexplained chart, Finland didn’t rocket from the bottom of the world to the top. On page two of her talented book, Ripley’s basic account of her interest in education seems to be flagrantly wrong.

What kind of “intellectual culture” guides the writing of such a book? A book where an obvious, foundational error appears right on page two? We’re not sure, but we were similarly puzzled when Ripley explained why Poland was chosen as one of the countries with the world’s “smartest kids.”

In fairness, Ripley never quite says that Poland is a high-scoring country. She frequently makes it sound that way, and every reviewer in the land seems to think that’s what she said. Are book reviewers ever required to take a reading test?

Ripley sometimes makes it sound like Poland's a high-scoring nation. But when she gets precise with her language, she describes Poland as “a country on the ascent,” an example of “the metamorphosis model” (page 24).

To what extent is or was Poland “a country on the ascent?” When Ripley describes Poland’s score gains, she focuses on the jumps that occurred the first two times Poland took part in the PISA.

With apologies, we have to give you a slightly truncated version of her account. (Never a lender be!) We expect to be able to fill in this account tomorrow:
RIPLEY (page 135): [I]n 2000, Polish fifteen-year-olds took the PISA...Polish fifteen-year-olds ranked twenty-first in reading and twentieth in math, below the United States and below the average for the developed world. Two-thirds scored in the rock-bottom lowest literacy level. Three years later, in 2003, a new group of Polish fifteen-year olds took the PISA again...Poland, the punch line for so many jokes around the world, ranked thirteenth in reading and eighteenth in math, just above the United States in both subjects.
In full context, those gains are treated as an example of what it means to be “a country on the ascent.” That said, even the least observant reader may notice something slightly odd about this thrilling account.

Moving from twenty-first to thirteenth in reading seems like a very good gain in the space of three years. But according to Ripley, Poland only moved from twentieth to eighteenth in math during this same period.

As a reader, we were puzzled by that passage. Were we supposed to be blown away by that degree of success—by the fact that Poland jumped all the way from 20th place to 18th? Was Ripley hoping her readers just wouldn’t notice the meagerness of that ascent?

Using the PISA Data Explorer provided by the NCES (and cited by Ripley), we decided to double-check Poland’s ascent during this period. We don’t know what measure Ripley is using when she describes Poland’s international rankings in math in 2000 and 2003. But if we’re going by average scores, Poland went from 21st out of 28 OECD countries in math in 2000 to a tie for 21st out of 29 OECD countries in 2003, as you can see for yourself by using the Data Explorer.

Poland did gain ground on the OECD average in math during that period. But, again with apologies, that passage on page 135 represents Ripley’s attempt to explain why Poland, “a country on the ascent,” is one of only three countries on which she chose to focus in this high-profile book.

We’ll be candid—Poland’s gains on the PISA don’t seem ginormous to us, especially if you read closely enough to see that Ripley is only claiming a very slight ascent in ranking in math in her basic presentation. And not only that! In this confusing passage from his review, Mathews refers to a situation which may make matters worse:
MATHEWS: The deeper Ripley goes, however, the less certain she is of the answer to our school problem. Teachers in the high-scoring countries give their students more rigorous assignments and get more support from parents, principals and students for demanding work than teachers do in the United States. Ripley embraces that key concept. But some of those nations share the American habit of thinking that not all students need rigor.

The PISA is given to 15-year-olds. Ripley cites a testing expert’s discovery that Poland gave that age group a boost by holding back pupils on their way to vocational school for an extra year of academic studies. Then, as an experiment, the PISA was given again to a sampling of those students when they were 16 or 17 and attending vocational schools. Their scores had dropped significantly. The extra year of academics had no lasting effect. Poland had an American-like gap between kids who were heading for college and those who weren’t.
In that rather murky passage, Mathews alludes to a basic change Poland made between 2000 and 2003. (In her book, Ripley explains this change with a bit more clarity, though even there, questions remain.)

Traditionally, lower-achieving Polish kids got “tracked” into vocational schools before their fifteenth year. After the disappointing PISA results of 2000, the country decided to keep those kids in more challenging academic programs for an additional year.

When Poland’s average scores rose in 2003 (if not its international rankings), did that represent a one-time reaction to this change in basic procedures? There’s no way of knowing, but Poland’s scores didn’t change a great deal between 2003 and 2009, the last year for which PISA scores are available.

Quite plainly, Poland isn’t a high-scoring nation, not even on the PISA. Beyond that, we’re not real sure why Poland is cited as “a country on the ascent,” and Ripley doesn’t really bother explaining in her 230-page book.

Given our nation’s “intellectual culture,” she seems to assume that readers will gasp when she tells us that Poland jumped from 20th place in math all the way up to 18th. (By 2009, Poland ranked 19th out of 34 OECD nations in math on the PISA.)

Let’s review:

Judging from Ripley’s chart, miraculous Finland didn’t start at the bottom of the world. A simple glance at Ripley’s chart seems to show that her statement is wrong.

Poland, a country on the ascent, only went from 20th to 18th in math in the period Ripley chose to highlight—and it achieved that gain in ranking on some undisclosed measure.

When a book is built around such claims, we can’t say we’re blown away by its “intellectual culture.” And we still must account for Ripley’s most significant decision.

Like many other nations, the United States and Poland take part in three major international testing programs—the PISA, the TIMSS and the PIRLS. No one makes these countries take part in these programs. Presumably, countries take part in the TIMSS and the PIRLS because they think the TIMSS and the PIRLS are valuable testing programs.

This causes a bit of a puzzle. The talented Ripley’s well-written book covers more than 200 pages. But a reader is never even told about the TIMSS and the PIRLS, testing programs on which American students have scored better, in recent years, than they have done on the PISA.

In an endnote, Ripley explains her decision to restrict herself to the PISA—to refer to data from one testing program when three sets of data are available. In our view, the intellectual culture displayed in this note isn’t especially high:
RIPLEY (page 258): There are other tests besides the PISA, each of which provides valuable data in its own right; for the purposes of this book, I was most interested in which countries prepared students to think, learn and thrive in the modern economy. PISA was designed with this purpose in mind. The OECD’s 1999 report, Measuring Student Knowledge and Skills, describes the difference between PISA and other international test this way...
Ripley goes on to provide a quote from that OECD report. She doesn’t explain that the PISA is a program which is developed and run by the OECD—that in this report, the OECD is describing and praising one of its own programs.

Is the PISA a better measure in some major way than the TIMSS and the PIRLS? We can’t answer that question, in part because the parameters of our “intellectual culture” are set by people like Ripley. But as a general matter, our nation displays a weak “intellectual culture,” just as Mathews suggested.

Part of that weak intellectual culture is put on display when reviewers like Mathews describe Poland as a high-scoring nation, thereby making the Standard Story told by this book seem just that much better. Meanwhile, the weak “intellectual culture” of Ripley’s book goes on display right on page 2, when she offers a weirdly bogus account of a chart which sits on page 3.

As with Mathews, so with Ripley. Her bogus account makes the Official Standard Story sound a great deal better. Miraculous Finland rose from the bottom all the way to the top!

If Ripley’s chart means what it seems to mean, Finland didn’t “start at the bottom of the world,” then shoot to the top, “without pausing for breath.” But wait a minute! If miraculous Finland didn’t do that, what got Ripley involved in education, the subject of this book?

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss past errors by Ripley and Mathews, errors which seem to keep advancing and improving the Official Establishment Line. Have you noticed that our intellectual culture is built around tightly-scripted, memorized tales? That our public discourse tends to be novels, novels all the way down?

Tomorrow: Extremely easy to con

With apologies: By tomorrow, we expect to provide a fuller chunk from page 135 about Poland’s rapid ascent.

27 comments:

  1. This book is already a huge commercial franchise.

    I feel sorry for public school kids these days. I really do. They seem to be surrounded by adults who have decided they are a ticket to the big time. I just think back to listening to Jonathan Kozol years ago and I never felt he was hoping for fame and fortune.

    The new breed aren't like that. Ed reform is a booming industry, which would be great, more power to them, except these extremely marketable "solutions" will end up at 7 year olds. Just depressing as hell.
    Can they have a childhood before they're turned into either products or consumers?

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  2. Does Ripley call for higher pay and better working conditions for teachers? Because that's what it takes to improve recruitment (selection) and training of American teachers. We have a market economy, so if you want to select and train better teachers you have to lure them away from other occupations competing for talent but offering better incentives. A lot of the reward of teaching is denied those in K-12 institutions that limit what and how children are taught so rigidly that there is little creativity or satisfaction left in the job. Does Ripley discuss any of that? Some of you commenting here seem to have read the book and I would like to know what her proposed solutions are, specifically -- but I don't want to buy the book.

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    1. Ripley says that teaching programs should be much more selective and rigorous, lending an air of prestige to the profession. She points out that many more teachers enter the field each year than are needed (Partly because standards/requirements to becoming a teacher a relatively low compared to other sectors). She says that in Finland, getting into a teaching program is like getting into MIT. Ripley says that once that change is made, higher pay and more autonomy would follow, improving teaching and reducing turnover.

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  3. OMB

    Note how BOB disappears the US from today's post? And how yesterday every year but 2009 disappeared when BOB compared Poland and US PISA scores.

    How has Ms. Ripley's home country fared against what was described by BOB as a nation "emerging from decades in the Soviet orbit (meaning they were once governed by real honest to God Joe Stalin himself, not those Stalinist feminists at Salon).

    Since 2003, in every science, math, and reading test given by OCED under its PISA programme in which data for both countries are available, the sample of Polish fifteen year olds has outscored the American sample except once, 2009, when the Americans and the Poles tied in reading.

    BOB was happy to tell you yesterday about the result of Americans compared to Poles in the most recent PIRLS and TIMSS tests, to a sample of fourth graders in each country. He didn't tell you if that gap was an edge the Americans have maintained over time because, alas, Polish 8th graders don't take the tests, their 4th graders have taken the PIRLS only twice, and the TIMSS only once. (Hint the Poles improved in reading but not by as much as the Americn little kiddos) All he can tell you is about their fifteen year olds, who Americans have tied only once in one subject area since 2003. For fans of American Football that is 0-6-1. Which may be why he doesn't tell you at all. In two straight posts. It is a fact, were it left out by a journalist BOB did not like, BOB would call DISAPPEARED.

    Oh and perhaps another fact BOB disappears. In his attempt to tell you why Ripley might not have told you about PIMMS and PIRL, the tests for the younger among the students of the world, did he remind you the bulk of her book is about following exchange students to the selected countries? Yes, barely in passing. How many 4th and 8th grade exchange programs do Americans have Ripley might have used to follow. Did BOB tell you that?

    What the book, BOB's posts, and my comment prove is how easy it is to make your point or belittle the point of others using the data base of any test, including any point made by the designers of the test themselves.

    That and a can of Arizona Ice Tea and a bag of Skittles will get you high (assuming other ingredients) or shot dead depending on which World you live in. Put that under your hoodie and smoke it.

    KZ (Planning a Doom takeover of the Liberal World as soon as its culture fully emerges)

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    1. These aren't strong criticisms KZ. First, you gloss the difference between a difference and a significant difference (one that means something). When both the US and Poland score 500 on a test, you don't call it a tie, as it would be in sports terms. You say there is no difference in their performance. When Poland scores 502 and the US scores 498, you don't call it a win, as you would in sports, because there is still likely to be no difference in their performance.

      Somerby does mention that the book follows three exchange students and he rightly asks how representative the experiences of three students might be, and whether they are sufficiently representative to be the heart of a book discussing education systems in two countries.

      When people understand statistics, it is not easy to make or belittle points using the data base of any test, because people can see for themselves whether the data support the conclusions. Your points are trivial and in one case don't make any sense. Further, you are addressing different points than Somerby did with his data. Somerby pointed out that Riley's own chart didn't support her statements. You have said nothing to refute that. You seem to think that if you write a few sentences about data and give them a negative tone, you can convince people you have made a telling criticism. Maybe that works on you, but at least a few people here know enough about reading data to see through your comment. So, no, it isn't easy to belittle a point using data -- but it is easy to make yourself appear foolish.

      And at last we see that your animus toward Bob is motivated by his posts critiquing the press coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. Don't like the message? Attack the messenger. Should we even bother responding substantively to your comments?

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    2. Statistical significance is important Lindy, and while I have addressed it in other comments in this as of now three part series, I did not do do here. Your critique is valid. Neither of course did BOB in this post, though he too has talked about it at times.

      That is why I am so glad, in your criticism of my comment you also took BOB to task for use of the often statistically insignificant fact of how many places the rankings a country like Poland had changed from test to test.

      Oh, you didn't do that? You see, when you criticize me for something that BOB does in the same post, it makes me think you truly understand my animus toward BOB. He does what you just did all the time: criticize others while letting the same practice by others slide. Sometimes he not only crticizes others for a practice, he uses that practice himself. He is so fast he even does it in the same post and his fans don't notice. That is the amazing thing about Bobworld and its emerging culture. Bob is flashing his fanny while denouncing mooning, and when a "troll" like me points it out a BOBfan steps up and says...you are criticizing the little boy who pointed out the emperor has no clothes.

      My point was not how badly or, if you prefer, significantly, Poland outscored the US on tests. My problem is BOB uses the data when it proves his point and disappears it when it doesn't. He does this while complaining an author or reporter he is criticizing don't mention things.

      My animus has nothing to do with his criticism of the press performance during the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
      In many cases his criticism was more than well founded in that case. But once he got on his narrative in that case, he did his share of making things up and disappearing facts while at the same time calling others to task for doing so.

      BOB does a service with his press criticism. Then he undermines it with his hypocrisy. You don't need to take me seriously. I'm just a voice in the comment thread. But BOB wants to be taken seriously. It is hard for that to happen when he points out poo while crapping in his pants.

      KZ

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    3. I thought the point of Bob's post was that there seems to be no evidence for Ripley's claim that Poland is a "nation on the ascent". And then pointing out that her book is partly built around that claim. And then finally that reviewers of the book go further by suggesting Poland does waaaaay better than the US in general - even though Ripley never actually asserts that.

      I honesty don't get this criticism of Bob. It seems to be based on some other post he didn't write where his main point is that the US was better than Poland.

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    4. "It seems to be based on some other post he didn't write..."

      Yup.

      What it's "based on" is desire for attention. In those terms -- and no others -- it's been a small success.

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    5. "BOB does a service with his press criticism. Then he undermines it with his hypocrisy. You don't need to take me seriously. I'm just a voice in the comment thread. But BOB wants to be taken seriously. It is hard for that to happen when he points out poo while crapping in his pants"

      That is utter crap. You're essentially arguing that it was hypocritical of Somerby to leave out older stats that do nothing to mitigate the 2009 ones.

      This you call "hypocrisy" while saying that Bob does a good thing in holding the media's feet to the fire!

      It's Bob's opinion on things that you has drawn a showboat troll like you, not hypocrisy.

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    6. No Cecelia, in this comment and the others I have made as this series progresses, I am demonstrating
      Bob inserts figures that support his narrative and leaves out those which don't, all the while complaining about what others leave out.

      You are so amusing. Just a comment or two ago you were suggesting I agreed with BOB more than you. Now it is his opinions that bother me?

      You were probably more correct the first time. But I am not sure if the "more" qualifies as statistically significant.

      And , since you are into psychology and name calling, yours is the sign of the sycophant.

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    7. Sorry Anons @ 1:27 and 6:43, didn't mean to show you any disprespect:

      "It seems to be based on some other post he didn't write..."

      Yes, it is based, in part, on some other post. But BOB did indeed write it.

      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2013/09/amanda-ripleys-believe-it-by-law_24.html

      KZ

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    8. Anons...10:20. You do agree with Bob's positions more than I do.

      It's his opinions which you don't hold that you can't forgive from a fellow liberal.

      Which is why you are here making asinine arguments that generally miss the point of what was stated and do nothing to prove the personal charges you make.

      Which is what makes you a tyrant.

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    9. Ok, KZ, I read that other Bob post you linked to. I can see how you might think the point of the post was that the US is better than Polish schools. But, I don't think that's actually what his focus is.

      Bob writes:

      "What kinds of judgments can we reach from the results of these tests? *That’s a complex question!* But plainly, Poland has not “scaled the heights of international test-score rankings.” Its students do not “handily surpass Americans’ mediocre performance,” not even on the PISA, where Poland achieved its best scores."

      He then repeats that he's talking about American journalism and how journalists invent ideas like Poland "scaling the heights" of international testing. So, to me Bob isn't arguing that the US is better than Poland. Only that journalists invented the tale that Poland has scaled the heights of intl. testing. Given my reading, I still feel like your critique is kind of off the mark.

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    10. His critique isn't "kinda off the mark", it's the usual obtuse bullshit that comes from hurriedly looking for anything to contest.

      I hope that no one is paying him for this quality of trollmanship.

      Somerby stated that he was not making a comparison on the quality of U.S. schools to Poland's schools for the sake of proving something about our schools, but in order to question the accuracy of the media meme of some Polish "miracle".

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  4. "I was most interested in which countries prepared students to think, learn and thrive in the modern economy"

    What exactly is Ripley's idea of "the modern economy"?

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  5. "I was most interested in which countries prepared students to think, learn and thrive in the modern economy"

    What exactly is Ripley's idea of "the modern economy"?

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  6. Olivia Blanchard, disillusioned with Teach For America, decamped for Oxford, UK. Here's her story at The Atlantic.

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  7. Ripley is a paid shill for the corporate takeover.

    l"Ripley, author of Smartest Kids in the World and very hot on the corporate school reform front right now, is featured in one of 38 short videos made by Stand for Children. In it she promotes her work. Hmmm. Was this book subsidized? Ripley acknowledges that she interviewed Bill Gates, Aug. 18, 2010, and she certainly echoes his proclamations about what's wrong with US education. In the Stand for Children film she concludes a pitch about US teachers just not being smart enough by declaring, “When everyone has different standards, there’s no way to measure success.”

    Ripley was listed as an Emerson Fellow at the New America Foundation, with this identifier: 'Ripley is working on a book about what it is like to be a child in the world's new education superpowers. Now that the book is published, New America features events, starring Ripley, Wendey Kopp, and the Deputy Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek.'

    Between 2009 and now, the New America Foundation has received $5,860,002 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation." -- Schools Matter, http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2013/09/bill-and-melinda-gates-money-at-work.html --Ellen

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    1. Yep....Ripley is what she is.

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  8. The late Gerald Bracey had a realistic perspective on international test score comparisons, writing that “comparing nations on average scores is a pretty silly idea. It's like ranking runners based on average shoe size or evaluating the high school football team on the basis of how fast the average senior can run the 40-yard dash. Not much link to reality.”

    Moreover, as Bracey pointed out, “test scores...don't seem to be related to anything important to a national economy.” Bracey cited S. J. Prais, a British economist, who wrote this about international test score comparisons:

    "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]."

    How true.

    The World Economic Forum ranks nations each year on competitiveness using "a highly comprehensive index" of the "many factors" that enable "national economies to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term prosperity."

    The U.S. is usually in the top five (if not 1 or 2). And when it drops, the WEF doesn’t cite education, but vacuous economic decisions and policies.

    When the U.S. dropped from 2nd to 4th in 2010-11, four factors were cited by the WEF for the decline: (1) weak corporate auditing and reporting standards, (2) suspect corporate ethics, (3) big deficits (exacerbated by Wall Street’s reckless financial implosion) and (4) unsustainable levels of debt.

    
In 2011-12, major factors cited by the WEF were a “business community” and business leaders who are “critical toward public and private institutions,” a lack of trust in politicians and the political process with a lack of transparency in policy-making, and “a lack of macroeconomic stability” caused by decades of fiscal deficits that “are likely to weigh heavily on the country’s future growth.” Those deficits and debt are directly attributable to supply-side economic policies pushed by big business.

    This year (2012-13), the WEF dropped the U.S. to 7th place, citing problems like “increasing inequality and youth unemployment” and “the United States is among the countries that have ratified the fewest environmental treaties.“ The WEF noted that in the U.S.,”the business community continues to be critical toward public and private institutions” and “trust in politicians is not strong.” Political dysfunction has led to “a lack of macroeconomic stability” that “continues to be the country’s greatest area of weakness.”

    And yet the business community points the finger of blame at public schools.

    On her website, Amanda Ripley has the temerity to term herself an “investigative journalist.”

    Either she doesn’t know the connotation of that term, or she is playing very fast and loose with it.

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  9. It’s been obvious for quite some time that Bill Gates is a man with an awful lot of money (he funded the Common Core, and his brand of "reform," not to mention his aid to the New America Foundation where Amanda Ripley is ensconced)., but he often lacks basic sense.

    Moreover, Gates is not necessarily believable. Indeed, the trial judge in the Microsoft antitrust suit said in his findings of fact (facts which were sustained on appeal) that top executives at Microsoft had “proved, time and time again, to be inaccurate, misleading, evasive, and transparently false. … Microsoft is a company with an institutional disdain for both the truth and for rules of law that lesser entities must respect. It is also a company whose senior management is not averse to offering specious testimony to support spurious defenses to claims of its wrongdoing.”

    Yet, for many, money talks. And Gates has a lot of money.

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  10. The late Gerald Bracey had a realistic perspective on international test score comparisons, writing that “comparing nations on average scores is a pretty silly idea. It's like ranking runners based on average shoe size or evaluating the high school football team on the basis of how fast the average senior can run the 40-yard dash. Not much link to reality.”

    Moreover, as Bracey pointed out, “test scores...don't seem to be related to anything important to a national economy.” Bracey cited S. J. Prais, a British economist, who wrote this about international test score comparisons:

    "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]."

    How true.

    The World Economic Forum ranks nations each year on competitiveness using "a highly comprehensive index" of the "many factors" that enable "national economies to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term prosperity."

    The U.S. is usually in the top five (if not 1 or 2). And when it drops, the WEF doesn’t cite education, but vacuous economic decisions and policies.

    When the U.S. dropped from 2nd to 4th in 2010-11, four factors were cited by the WEF for the decline: (1) weak corporate auditing and reporting standards, (2) suspect corporate ethics, (3) big deficits (exacerbated by Wall Street’s reckless financial implosion) and (4) unsustainable levels of debt.

    
In 2011-12, major factors cited by the WEF were a “business community” and business leaders who are “critical toward public and private institutions,” a lack of trust in politicians and the political process with a lack of transparency in policy-making, and “a lack of macroeconomic stability” caused by decades of fiscal deficits that “are likely to weigh heavily on the country’s future growth.” Those deficits and debt are directly attributable to supply-side economic policies pushed by big business.

    This year (2012-13), the WEF dropped the U.S. to 7th place, citing problems like “increasing inequality and youth unemployment” and “the United States is among the countries that have ratified the fewest environmental treaties.“ The WEF noted that in the U.S.,”the business community continues to be critical toward public and private institutions” and “trust in politicians is not strong.” Political dysfunction has led to “a lack of macroeconomic stability” that “continues to be the country’s greatest area of weakness.”

    And yet the business community points the finger of blame at public schools.

    On her website, Amanda Ripley has the temerity to term herself an “investigative journalist.”

    Either she doesn’t know the connotation of that term, or she is playing very fast and loose with it.

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