What have they done with Motoko Rich?

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 2, 2014

Scribe reverts to form: Remember how great it was last week when Motoko Rich really nailed it?

For our report, click here.

What happened to that Motoko Rich? This morning, in the New York Times, the old Rich seems to be back.

Rich presents a weirdly fuzzy report about some new PISA scores. Her headline is strangely upbeat, and her facts are a bit hard to parse:
RICH (4/2/14): American Students Test Well in Problem Solving, but Trail Foreign Counterparts

Fifteen-year-olds in the United States scored above the average of those in the developed world on exams assessing problem-solving skills, but they trailed several countries in Asia and Europe as well as Canada, according to international standardized tests results released on Tuesday.

The American students who took the problem-solving tests in 2012, the first time they were administered, did better on these exams than on reading, math and science tests, suggesting that students in the United States are better able to apply knowledge to real-life situations than perform straightforward academic tasks.

Still, students who took the problem-solving tests in countries including Singapore, South Korea, Japan, several provinces of China, Canada, Australia, Finland and Britain all outperformed American students.
A bit later, Rich says that these results come from the 2012 PISA. “The new problem-solving exams were administered to a subset of 15-year-olds in 28 countries who sat for the Program for International Student Assessment,” she says.

If we scored behind only seven countries (of 28), that means we did pretty well on this measure, given the way the PISA works. But Rich never presents any actual scores, and she doesn’t do a great job explaining the nature of this test.

That isn’t our main objection to Rich’s report. Our main objection is this:
RICH (continuing directly from above): “The good news is that problem solving still remains a relatively strong suit for American students,” said Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy group focused on improving high schools. “The challenge is that a lot of other nations are now developing this and even moving ahead. So where we used to, in an earlier era, dominate in what we called the deeper learning skills—creative thinking, critical thinking and the ability to solve problems—in terms of producing the workers that are increasingly needed in this area, other nations are coming on strong and in some cases surpassing us.”
We’ve taken part in several comedy events with ex-governor Wise. We’ll always have the Improv!

That said, please riddle us this: What the heck is Wise talking about in the highlighted passage?

In what era did American students “dominate in what we called the deeper learning skills—creative thinking, critical thinking and the ability to solve problems?”

By now, we thought everyone had agreed that there never was a time when American students led the world on international tests. For various reasons, it’s important to get clear on such facts, if only so voters can start to learn about the apparent progress which has been occurring in our American test scores.

In that statement, Wise seems to have reverted to the myth of the golden age. If Rich was going to use that quote, she should have made Wise explain it.

Over and over, in so many ways, our public discourse ends up running on narrative, myth and script. Again and again, it turns out to be narrative all the way down.

Absent explanation, it looks like Wise has reverted to myth. Meanwhile, what ever happened to Rich? Has she reverted to form?

15 comments:

  1. "By now, we thought everyone had agreed that there never was a time when American students led the world on international tests. For various reasons, it’s important to get clear on such facts, if only so voters can start to learn about the apparent progress which has been occurring in our American test scores."

    By now, we thought everyone had agreed that there never was a time when the general public, or even Howler commenters cared about posts concerning international tests. For various reasons, it’s important to get clear on such facts, if only so voters can start to learn about the apparent progress which has been occurring in our American test scores. Then they can elect Bush because Chris Matthews almost got somebody killed.

    KZ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Back in January, even after the infamous Kelly-to-Wildstein communique, Bob wrote his insanely stupid, "It could still be a good faith, legitimate traffic study" post.

      Uncle Drum wrote, in kinder terms of course, how insanely stupid that was. And so did the blog Balloon Juice, though in less kind terms.

      I mention this because the comment sections below both were remarkably similar. Many of them began with "While Somerby is still good on education, I stopped reading him years ago when he became insanely stupid."

      I paraphrase of course.

      Well, it now seems that Somerby is no longer good on education either. Like a washed-up comic, he's run out of material and keeps repeating the same old schtick, until even people who once were big fans can't suppress their yawns.

      And boringly predictable. It was only a matter of time before Motoko Rich, writing for the vile NY Times, would fall out of Somerby's favor.

      Delete
    2. I guess inability to separate wheat from chaff defines someone who deserves to be called a troll.

      It's Rich who resorted to the same old schtick. If you think it's time to cave in to the billionaire education "reformers" and just give it a rest, that's your privilege, but don't expect anyone who cares to take you seriously. Not sure why you need to proclaim that here all the time, though. Why not go tell Kevin Drum how stupid he is on every single, last topic.

      Delete
    3. Well, Urban, in the interest of consistency, I'll give you the same reply I give to Bob fans when they are confronted by ideas outside their little box and invite me to leave.

      You can kiss my ass.

      I did think, however, that you were once capable of recognizing that Somerby doesn't really give a damn about education or low income kids or anything else other than proving how much smarter he is that Rachel Maddow and the entire staff of the NY Times.

      My bad.

      Delete
    4. And you seem preoccupied with proving how much smarter you are than Somerby. At least he picks loftier targets.

      Delete
    5. True. Can't pick targets much lower than old Bob.

      Delete
    6. And if he is low then what does that make you?

      Delete
  2. Right, Bob. I read the article by Rich and thought just as you thought having learned how to read such work from you. I am deeply appreciative for such wonderful analysis, having been learning steadily from it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heidegger degger, the cat and the piddle,
      The clown told time on the moon.
      The jellyfish stung to read bad reports
      And I'll catch Bob's drifts real soon.

      Delete
  3. I think it used to be that American failure to dominate these lists of international test scores was offset by our exceptionalist faith that we excell in real-world creativity, initiative, entrepreneurism, and innovative. These all require problem-solving and applied thinking. Since the PISA tests are new and the only tests that purportedly measure such skills, our prior dominance seems to have been implied rather than actual.

    Reporting test scores seems to always be in the service of some other claim or goal, not for their own sake, so the direction of the distortion indicates the motivaes of whoever is writing or talking about our rankings.

    Somerby asks why no one cares about education, but I think the people who care the most, parents of young children, correctly understand that what matters is the quality of their local school, not where America as a whole stands in relation to Singapore.

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  4. Of course, Singapore is a city. I wonder how its scores compare to, say, an American urban area with low poverty, such as metropolitan Minneapolis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Better yet, compare them to Newport Beach (but include those charter schools).

      Delete
  5. Face facts. White people of European stock don't stand much of a chance up against Asians. Even when mixed with lesser elements as immigrants in America, Asian kids get expelled from preschool at half the rate as scruffy white bullies.

    ReplyDelete