INVISIBLE CHILDREN: Black kids disappeared!


Part 1—Three different worlds: “Three different worlds/We live in three different worlds...”

If Jerry Vale or Don Rondo were active today, they’d have to rewrite their classic hit song.

Back in 1956, Rondo had a fairly large hit with the claim that we live in two different worlds. Today, Amanda Ripley’s ballyhooed book, The Smartest Kids in the World, helps us spot at least three.

Ripley’s book is often extremely weak; often, it seems a bit scam-ridden. That said, the book is often quite interesting as it explores educational cultures around the world.

At one point, Ripley jets to South Korea to show us why that nation’s students score so well on international tests. There seems to be no great mystery there. In his review of Ripley’s book for the Washington Post Outlook section, Jay Mathews describes the world of Korean high school students:
MATHEWS (9/22/13): One of the more intriguing moments in Amanda Ripley’s fine book is the introduction of a Minnesota teenager named Eric to the South Korean public school system. That country has some of the highest average test scores in the world. Eric assumed that every high school class would be flying high, all eyes on the teacher, no nonsense. Instead, during his first day in sociology class, attention was minimal. About a third of the students were asleep.

They were recovering from their evening tutoring academies called “hagwons.” South Korea’s glittering international reputation for academics began to look to Eric more corrosive than inspiring.

“The kids had acted like they lived in the classroom because they essentially did,” Ripley writes. “They spent more than twelve hours there every weekday—and they already went to school almost two months longer than kids back in Minnesota. His classmates slept in their classes for one primal reason: because they were exhausted.”
South Korea has gone over the top in pursuit of academic success. According to Ripley, the Korean government is cracking down on the hagwons, the demanding academies which swing into action after the school day is over.

The Korean government is trying to enforce a ten o’clock curfew on the hagwons! Korea’s educational culture is very different from ours.

For good or for ill, those South Korean kids live in a different world. In terms of its educational culture, Ripley refers to Korea as a “hamster wheel country.”

Finland is another high-scoring country, but it doesn’t have a hamster wheel culture. In Ripley’s telling, its educational culture is much more laid back than the one she found in Korea. Indeed, according to Ripley, Finnish kids have more spare time than kids do over here!

How then does Finland achieve such high test scores? When the horrific Annie Murphy Paul reviewed Ripley’s book for the New York Times, she stressed two parts of Finnish educational culture which Ripley describes in her book.

On the one hand, Paul writes, Finland “ensure[s] high-quality teaching from the beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher-training programs, which are themselves far more demanding than such programs in America.”

In Finland, only high-achieving high school students can hope to become teachers. Persistently, Ripley suggests and claims that this accounts for Finland’s educational success, although she never presents any real evidence that this is the case.

According to Ripley, Finland’s teachers are different from ours. But in a rather peculiar passage, Paul says that Finland’s students are different too.

According to Ripley’s book, Finnish kids care more about school than American students do. On balance, that’s almost surely the case. But in our view, the following account from Paul’s review is odd in several respects.

“Kim” is a 15-year-old Oklahoman who spent a year in Finland as an exchange student:
PAUL (8/25/13): Kim soon notices something else that’s different about her school in Pietarsaari, and one day she works up the courage to ask her classmates about it. “Why do you guys care so much?” Kim inquires of two Finnish girls. “I mean, what makes you work hard in school?” The students look baffled by her question. “It’s school,” one of them says. “How else will I graduate and go to university and get a good job?” It’s the only sensible answer, of course, but its irrefutable logic still eludes many American students, a quarter of whom fail to graduate from high school. Ripley explains why: Historically, Americans “hadn’t needed a very rigorous education, and they hadn’t gotten it. Wealth had made rigor optional.” But now, she points out, “everything had changed. In an automated, global economy, kids needed to be driven; they need to know how to adapt, since they would be doing it all their lives. They needed a culture of rigor.”
Finland’s students are conscientious about school; American students are not. In Paul’s account of Ripley’s book, American kids drop out of school because “wealth had made rigor optional” here in the U.S.

Does Ripley say that the American students drop out of school because “wealth had made rigor optional in America?” That quote comes from page 192 of her book, but she isn’t talking about drop-out rates at the time. She is talking about the (alleged) lack of academic rigor in American high schools.

On the other hand, Ripley does say this about wealth and drop-out rates at an earlier point (page 49): “Korea had one of the highest high-school graduation rates in the world, far higher than the United States, despite having dramatically less wealth.”

Perhaps that remark, and a few others like it, led Paul to craft that strange account, in which Americans kids drop out of school because they’ve been spoiled, made indolent by their nation’s wealth.

Can we talk? Surely Ripley understands that there are many American students whose attitudes about high school and college match those expressed by that Finnish girl. There are lots of kids in American high schools who are striving to do the best they can on their way to a college career.

It’s also true that many American students don’t have attitudes like that by the time they reach high school. We think those kids are largely invisible in Ripley’s slippery book.

Alas! Here in the United States, we live in quite a few different worlds. In our view, Ripley tries hard in most of her book to avoid this obvious fact.

Finland is a small, middle-class nation with few minorities and very few immigrants. The country is full of middle-class kids with middle-class educational values.

The United States has lots of kids like that too. But the U.S. is a much more complex society, with a brutal, destructive racial history and a lot of immigration from low-literacy points of origin.

Kids in Scarsdale are eager to “go to university” too, just like that student in Pietarsaari. On average, it may well be that middle-class Finnish kids are more serious about school than middle-class American kids—on average.

Relentlessly, Ripley says and implies that this is true, and she may well be right—on average.

On average, middle-class Finnish kids may be more serious about school than their middle-class American peers. That said, the biggest shortfalls in American schooling take place in other American worlds. Those worlds are almost completely avoided in Ripley’s slippery, well-scripted book.

Ralph Ellison was an invisible man. Black kids are largely invisible in Ripley’s book. Issues of poverty are lightly glossed. Race is completely avoided.

Finland is a small, middle-class world—a largely unicultural world. (We don’t mean that as a criticism.) By way of contrast, the United States contains multitudes. For better or worse, American students live in quite a few different worlds.

All week, we’ll discuss the world of the American kids Ripley prefers to disappear. We’ll discuss the role our different worlds play in the educational data which have Ripley mouthing standard claims about the need for certain types of education reform.

American kids live in several different worlds. Shouldn’t this book have discussed that?

Tomorrow: What is Finland actually like? Also, a puzzling claim

Treat yourselves: Back in 1956, we only lived in two different worlds. To hear Don Rondo work his magic, you can just click here.

For Jerry Vale, click this. Mr. Vale appears as himself in Goodfellas and in Casino.


  1. OMB (Tired of the Phat French and Pudgy Poles? Drop and R-Bomb)

    It took 5 (or was it 6?) Parts, but Your Howler gets results and a response from the youngish inexperienced Ms. Ripley. (See last post's comments
    (including the fine work from Doom's dancing data analysts)).

    So, BOB, having almost completely ignored any actual prescriptions for educational change in Ripley's book, is ready to move on to a discussion of what Ripley IGNORED. Get ready for a data filled week revealing unfudged and unfuzzy facts. The DISAPPEARED will APPEAR. BOB teases us with the prospect of a tribal pleaser from Liberalworld: the brutal racial history of America, its immigration policy, poverty and the real and perceived impact of same on education in America.

    Meanwhile we don't really know what reforms, if any, Ms. Ripley has prescribed after jet setting in the footsteps of three foreign exchange students. There have been hints, but nothing solid. Not from BOB. Not even from reviewers such as the horrific Annie Murphy Paul. Perhaps Paul left them out because what she really thought of the book can be found in the opening of her review, which BOB left out of Part 1.

    "If you want the American dream, go to Finland.” These blunt words from a British politician, quoted by Amanda Ripley in “The Smartest Kids in the World,” may lead readers to imagine that her book belongs to a very particular and popular genre. We love to read about how other cultures do it better (stay slim, have sex, raise children). In this case, Ripley is offering to show how other nations educate students so much more effectively than we do, and her opening pages hold out a promising suggestion of masochistic satisfaction. “American educators described Finland as a silky paradise,” she writes, “a place where all the teachers were admired and all the children beloved.”

    The appeal of these books, which include “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” “Bringing Up Bébé” and “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (excerpted in The Wall Street Journal under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”), comes from the opportunity to wallow enjoyably in envy and self-loathing — and then to close the cover, having changed nothing. We’re Americans, after all. We’re not really going to do it the Chinese way or the French way, superior as they may be."

    In true Log Rolling In Our Times fashion (Thanks, SPY magazine, RIP)
    Paul then praises Ripley's book without really telling us specifically what Ripley proposes. Yes, Ms. Paul, you should have stopped while you were ahead. Because French women do get fat, American kids are not all fatheads and this book WILL soon be forgotten.

    But not by BOB by BOB. In Parts 1 through however many, we learn Ripley favors better teacher recruitment and training and a serious culture in our schools. Instead of saying, in the words of another famous song*
    "Is that all there is?" BOB treats us to a display of playing with numbers so dazzling you'll think the fudge is the sweet stuff Mama used to make instead of the byproduct of bullroar. Because, as you know, it is the lack of training and culture in the press that causes paralysis in our whole society which is collapsing, so forget the silly call for them in schools.

    Unless, of course, Ripley made serious proposals BOB did not mention that his commenters have alluded to as part of that nefarious anti-teacher reform agenda (is the Reform Agenda anything like the Gay Agenda?). We just don't know. We haven't read her book.

    We look forward to the week ahead. We know the brutal history of race in America has caused far too many to be too quick to drop the R-bomb when viewing individual events. At least according to BOB. So we want to see how BOB handles Meta Data in bringing Meta Understanding to our education dilemma. Hopefully it will point the way to Meta World Peace in our time and an improvement in the elitist Times.

    KZ (On the brutally run Planet of Doom, we had Jr. sent to Siberistan with the rest of the chickenshit idiots)

  2. Part 1 (the “talented” Ripley)

    At the link below, one can scroll down and see photographs of what a number of Korean students think about their schools:

    And below, in part 5 of Somerby's critique of Amanda Ripley and her new book, we see that the lass of Lawrenceville has weighed in herself. It seems that she is "bummed out" about Somerby's "mistakes." For example, Somerby says she only has three years of experience in writing about education. Ripley asserts that it's actually five years, dating to her 2008 Time magazine fawning article on Michelle Rhee. Sigh.

    Okay. Somerby erred. But who’s been the master of mistakes? On her blog – written when the Time cover story on Rhee came out – Ripley wrote more nonsense, serious and egregious nonsense. She repeated the Eric Hanushek (her go-to guy for "research") line that "a child who has three bad teachers for three years in a row really never recovers."

    Hanushek has written that if we could only “replace the bottom 5%-10% of teachers with an average teacher—not a superstar—we could dramatically improve student achievement. The U.S. could move from below average in international comparisons to near the top.” And then, Hanushek says, American economic competitiveness would be restored (with trillions and trillions of dollars added to the economy). Obviously, Hanushek’ assertions don’t add up. Maybe because they’re not true.

    Hanushek is a conservative economist who rarely if ever has a positive thing to say about public schools and who's been caught numerous times fudging and distorting data to make it support his predetermined conclusions.

    Hanushek infamously discounted the Tennessee STAR study findings on small class size because the researchers, meticulous in assigning students randomly to smaller, control, and larger class sizes hadn't given students achievement tests BEFORE they entered kindergarten. The dude is a certified numb-nut.

    Hanushek – and people who cite him –  say that American economic competitiveness is dependent on school "reform." Hanushek quotes economist Robert Lucas to bolster his contention. Lucas is the prototypical free market conservative who subscribes to and believes in "supply-side policies." Lucas thinks that the economy has slowed due to “ fiscal policy that threatens higher taxes on the rich, and promises higher spending on programs like healthcare,” even though the U.S. has the biggest – by far – income stratification gap in the developed world, spends far MORE on health care than any other developed nation, and the Congressional Budget Office says the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 will help to reduce health care spending and decrease the deficit. Lucas said economists who supported President Obama’s stimulus package “were either incompetent ("schlock economics" was the phrase) or corrupt.”

    Both Robert Lucas and Eric Hanushek signed onto 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s plans to make the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent and to reduce corporate income taxes.

  3. Part 2 (the “talented” Ripley)

    People like Hanushek place the blame and burden on public schools, though they had absolutely nothing to do with the Great Recession, deficits and debt, and job losses. The new mantra is Common Core. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that “Common core academic standards among the states are essential” to U.S. competitiveness. The Business Roundtable resurrects the “rising tide of mediocrity” myth of A Nation at Risk, saying (falsely) that “Since the release of A Nation at Risk in 1983, it has been increasingly clear that...academic expectations for American students have not been high enough.” Arne Duncan parrots what they say. So too do most mainstream education “reporters” like Amanda Ripley, who terms herself an “investigative journalist” (BIG eye roll).

    Ripley informs us that the Common Core was “designed by educators.” But the overwhelming majority of those “educators” were university faculty or associated with testing organizations like the College Board and the ACT. Moreover, the Common Core is largely the “brainchild” of Achieve, Inc, an entity founded by business to promote “standards-based education reform” focused on “accountability” that is reliant on “a set of incentives and consequences.”

    Who funds Achieve? The Gates Foundation, and Microsoft. JPMorgan Chase. Chevron. AT & T. And guess who funded the Common Core? Bill Gates. Incidentally, he also funds the New America Foundation, where Ripley is a fellow.

    Ripley also tells us that “the U.S. urgently needs more rigorous standards.” This is presumably because, as Ripley tells us elsewhere, other nations are reaping the economic benefits of education “reform” while the U.S. is not. The Common Core website states that the standards are necessary for the U.S. “to compete successfully in the global economy.” Patently untrue.

    The U.S. already IS internationally competitive.

    The World Economic Forum ranks nations each year on competitiveness. It uses "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). When it drops, the WEF cites stupid economic decisions and policies. The very same decisions and policies supported by big businesses – like JPM0rgan Chase, Chevron, AT & T, and Microsoft – and by economists like Eric Hanushek.

    For example, 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 (brought on by Wall Street’s financial implosion) and (4) unsustainable levels of debt.
Last year (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 and debt that “are likely to weigh heavily on the country’s future growth.”

    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.”

    But, where do big business and the $70,000-a-year Lawrenceville School-educated Ripley point the finger of blame and responsibility?

    Sho’ nuff. At those crappy, mediocre public schools.

  4. Don Rondo may have caused the Baby Boom.