Epilogue—Bay State confidential: When American journalists report domestic test scores, they typically "disaggregate."
They compare white kids' scores to the scores of black and Hispanic kids. They announce that the "achievement gaps" remain large.
They fail to report that all three groups have recorded large score gains. Gloomily, they announce that nothing has worked.
That's what happens when our journalists report domestic test scores. But when they report international scores, they almost never "disaggregate." (We're not sure we've ever seen an American journalist do that.)
They present the American aggregate score, then fashion gloomy thoughts about the way our students, teachers and schools compare to those in admirable countries like Finland.
They fashion sweeping gloomy thoughts. All our students, teachers and school get thrown under the bus.
In the past two weeks, we've shown you how it looks when you disaggregate American scores on international tests. In one way, the results are horrific and painful. In another way, American public schools, full stop, don't look quite so bad.
Our white students stack up pretty well as compared to the rest of the world. Our Asian-American students stack up substantially better. That said, gigantic achievement gaps appear between those two groups of kids and our black and Hispanic kids. In our view, those painful data help us see where our educational challenges are.
What explains those large gaps? What could we do to erase them? Different people will have different ideas. In the weeks and months ahead, we will try to sift through them, although the dirty secret is this:
(There's no sign that anyone cares.)
In our view, disaggregated international scores show where our challenges are. They also tend to undercut the sweeping denigration of our teachers and schools which comes from the types of propagandists who have tended to write the scripts for our contemporary journalism.
According to those propagandists, we're supposed to look at international scores and declare how awful our public schools are, full stop. For ourselves, we often reach a different conclusion. After we disaggregate international scores, we're often struck by how mediocre the outcomes are in a middle-class, unicultural nation like Finland.
Today, let's extend a comparison we started yesterday. Let's extend our battle of the small, unrepresentative corners. Let's compare Finland, a small corner of Europe, to Massachusetts, a small corner of our own more complex land.
By all accounts, Finland is a wonderful place to live. That said, how do its public schools perform on international tests as compared to the public schools of Massachusetts? Today, we'll disaggregate Bay State scores to let you consider that question more fully.
Once again, we think you'll see where our nation's educational challenges are. But we think you'll also see the problem with those sweeping denigrations of American teachers and schools, full stop. In our view, those sweeping denigrations almost resemble a form of propaganda.
Let's start with results on the PISA, the international test on which Americans kids have performed less well.
On the most recent PISA, here's the way Massachusetts kids performed, as compared to their peers in the world's public school super-powers. As we disaggregate Massachusetts scores, we create a Bay State confidential:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISAEven in the aggregate, our own small corner matched their small corner on these international tests. (On the PISA scale, 39 points is considered the rough equivalent of one academic year.)
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 584
Massachusetts, white students: 540
South Korea: 536
Massachusetts, black students: 476
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 475
Average scores, Math Literacy, 2012 PISA
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 569
South Korea: 554
Massachusetts, white students: 530
Massachusetts, black students: 458
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 446
Even in the aggregate, Bay State kids matched miraculous Finland! But when we disaggregate Bay State scores, the story becomes more complex.
On the one hand, you see the giant achievement gaps which show us where our challenges are. On the other hand, you may gain a new perspective on miraculous Finland, even on the three Asian tigers.
White kids in Massachusetts outscored Finland on both these measures. Asian-American Bay State kids outscored Finland by a lot; they even outscored all three Asian public school super-powers. Somehow, these results emerged from our ratty public schools with their lazy, unionized staffs.
Let's be fair! Massachusetts is a small, unrepresentative corner of the United States. But Finland is an even smaller, unrepresentative corner of Europe.
As a unicultural nation with very little immigration, Finland's students are almost all "majority culture." In our own small corner of the U.S., our own "majority culture" kids outscored Finland, even on the tests which made Finland famous.
On the TIMSS, the Bay State does even better. But the challenges remain.
Within the Bay State's disaggregated scores, the large achievement gaps are there for all to see. On the other hand, you might start to see how silly it is to denigrate American schools, full stop, while praising the wonders of Finland:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSSWe can't give you a rule of thumb to apply to those score differentials. But especially in math, Bay State kids, even in the aggregate, outscored miraculous Finland by a lot.
South Korea: 613
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 599
Massachusetts, white students: 572
Massachusetts, black students: 516
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 514
Average scores, Grade 8 science, 2011 TIMSS
Massachusetts, white students: 587
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 576
South Korea: 560
Massachusetts, black students: 514
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 494
On both these tests, our small corner, in the aggregate, beat Europe's small corner straight-up. In science, Massachusetts, in the aggregate, even outscored all three Asian public school powers. The Bay State outscored them straight up!
That said, we still confront those very large internal achievement gaps. In our view, we face two major challenges:
On the one hand, we face an educational challenge. It's defined by the large achievement gaps which appear whenever we disaggregate American scores.
That said, we also face a journalistic challenge. Our journalism has been driven by simple-minded, propagandistic story-lines about our hapless public school teachers and our embarrassing schools. In sweeping fashion, these story-lines denigrate all our teachers, students and schools. Full freaking stop!
Those propagandistic story-lines are poorly aligned with reality. They're neatly aligned with certain corporate and pseudo-conservative perspectives, interests and themes. But they fail to capture the complex, appalling lay of the land within our public schools.
For whatever reason, our journalists have rushed to endorse those simple-minded tales. Perhaps in perfect good faith, the billionaires have been aggressively pushing those tales. Our press corps has rushed to recite them.
In our view, the truth is much more difficult, vastly more daunting. It's also much more complex.
Our small corner beats their small corner! Isn't it time for the press to expand its small, silly story-lines?
To access all data: To access all data, you'll have to click here. From that point, you're on your own.