Six states outscore the champ: Let’s be clear about one thing. As far as we know, Finland has excellent schools.
By all accounts, Finland boasts a very civilized middle-class society. As part of the deal, the country tends to score quite well on international tests.
As far as we know, Finland has always scored well on international tests, dating to the start of such testing in the 1960s. For unknown reasons, Ripley seems to say something very different on page 2 of her book.
That said, Finland scores especially well on the international test called the PISA. In 2000, its high scores on the inaugural PISA created the latest of the low-IQ fads which dominate educational “thinking.”
That latest fad might be called “Finland chic.” Over the past dozen years, a cult has grown around the miracles which occur in Finland’s schools.
Many journalists have agreed to take the free trip to Helsinki. When they have returned, they have repeated their guild’s Official Approved Standard Tales.
Amanda Ripley joins this cult on page 2 of her new book, The Smartest Kids in the World. That’s why you ought to know what happened in math on the 2011 TIMSS.
The TIMSS is a major international test. Since it started in 1995, it has been taken, at different times, by virtually every developed nation.
How do we know the TIMSS is a major international test? In part, because that’s what Ripley calls it in her widely praised book! In the part of the book shown below, she refers to the TIMSS in the highlighted passages, which help establish Minnesota’s elite status in math:
RIPLEY (page 72): Of the three American students I followed, Eric was the only one who did not loathe math. Coincidence or not, Eric’s home state of Minnesota was one of only two states that came close to achieving world-class math performance. Roughly speaking, Minnesota ranked below just a dozen other countries (including Canada, Korea and Finland) in math proficiency; only Massachusetts did better in the United States.In each of those highlighted passages, Ripley is referring to the TIMSS, although she never names this “major test,” not even in her endnotes.
When Eric arrived in Korea, he had a solid math background. There were lots of reasons for this: One might have been that his timing was good. Had he been born earlier, things might have turned out different.
In 1995, Minnesota fourth graders placed below average for the United States on an international math test. Despite being a mostly white, middle-class state, Minnesota was not doing well in math. When Eric started kindergarten two years later, however, the state had smarter and more focused math standards. When he was eleven, Minnesota updated those standards again, with an eye toward international benchmarks. By the time he went to high school, his peers were scoring well above average for the United States and much of the world. In 2007, Minnesota elementary students rocked a major international math test, performing at about the same level as kids in Japan.
In 1995 and 2007, Minnesota took the TIMSS as an independent entity. When Ripley says that Minnesota “rocked a major international test,” she is referring to Minnesota’s performance on the TIMSS.
In this passage, Ripley uses the TIMSS to establish Minnesota’s elite status in math. But all through the rest of her book, she ignores the TIMSS. She builds her book around the PISA, the test on which American kids have scored less well in the past dozen years.
We can’t tell you why Ripley made this decision. Tomorrow, we’ll review the part of the book where she gives her explanation.
Ripley focuses on the PISA, almost never cites the TIMSS. This helps produce the gloomy story about failing schools which elite “reformers” love.
Are we a helpless, pitiful giant as compared to miraculous Finland? You may get that impression from reading Ripley’s book. That’s why you ought to check the results of the 2011 TIMSS.
In 2011, nine states took the Grade 8 TIMSS as independent entities. (Only two states did the same in Grade 4.) Below, you see the way these states scored in math.
We include the overall scores for the U.S. and Finland:
2011 TIMSS, Grade 8 math, all students:For the record: On the TIMSS scale, 500 is set as the average score, with a standard deviation of 100. The Asian tigers scored substantially higher than both the U.S. and Finland.
North Carolina 537
United States 509
Nine states took part in the Grade 8 TIMSS as independent entities. Six of those states outscored Finland in math, several by fairly large margins. A seventh state matched the Finns.
(On official reports from the NCES, the five-point margin between the US and Finland is designated as statistically meaningless. On the grade 4 level, Finland outscored the United States, 545-541. Again, the difference is marked as statistically insignificant.)
For what it’s worth, Finland has never scored ginormously well on the TIMSS. Perhaps for that reason (and perhaps not), Finland stopped taking part in the TIMSS after the 1999 testing.
In 2011, Finland returned to the TIMSS. It got outscored in Grade 8 math by the six states shown above, with Florida matching its score.
These TIMSS results were released in December 2012. Who knows? Perhaps that was too late for inclusion in Ripley’s book, which appeared in August 2013.
But Ripley completely ignores the TIMSS in her book, except when TIMSS scores can be used to establish some preferred narrative. And here comes something worse:
Ripley never mentions these TIMSS scores in her current public appearances. She still presents the standard story, in which miraculous Finland is kicking our keisters in math.
How odd! When it comes to Minnesota, the TIMSS is a “major international test.” Its results can be used to establish elite status in math.
But the United States matched Finland in math on the 2011 TIMSS. And six different states, out of nine which took part, outscored Finland in math!
In her public sessions in support of her book, Ripley doesn’t cite these facts. For C-Span’s tape of an hour-long session, click this.
Tomorrow, we’ll tell you a bit more about the TIMSS and the PISA. What’s the difference between these tests? What is Ripley’s explanation for ignoring the TIMSS, except when it serves a narrow narrative purpose?
On Friday, it’s back to Minnesota, one of our highest scoring states. Unless we disaggregate test scores.
Like Finland, Minnesota has lots of good schools. But is Minnesota really as good as Ripley says in her book? More specifically, is Massachusetts the only state ranking with Minnesota in the teaching of math?
Brace yourselves: Before long, we'll show you how white students in those states scored on this math test. Because Finland is largely unicultural and middle-class, this forms an intriguing comparison.
Almost all students in Finland come from the majority population and culture. To Finland’s credit, it never spent 300 years trying to eliminate literacy from a brutally oppressed part of its population.
As you may have heard, our ancestors did that! We live in the backwash of this vast historical crime. Almost surely, you can't learn how to deal with this by visiting schools in Finland.