A note on immigrant kids: How well did American students perform on the 2015 Pisa?
We'll get to that question in time. For ourselves, we haven't yet examined the scores-in-themselves. We're still puzzling about the way the scores are being reported.
This morning, we read the Washington Post's report on the Pisa; we missed it when it appeared last week. At first glance, we were puzzled by the way Joe Heim handled those alleged Chinese scores. Also, by his adherence to a basic rule:
When countries outscore the United States, you lovingly name those countries. When the United States outscores those same countries, those countries will go unnamed.
Heim followed that rule with distinction. For today, let's return to Amanda Ripley's report from the New York Times, a major newspaper which seems to have disappeared the Timss.
Ripley's report appeared on December 8; for our previous treatment, click here. We were struck by the following passage, in which Ripley discusses the miraculous way the Pisa honchos predict which countries are going to do well:
RIPLEY (12/8/16): So how do the researchers make their predictions? The process is not entirely intuitive. They can't, for example, assume that countries that spend the most will do the best (the world's biggest per-student spenders include the United States, Luxembourg and Norway, none of which are education superpowers).Our assessment? With this report for the Times, Ripley seems to have established herself as one of the great, silly propagandists.
Nor can they guess based on which countries have the least poverty or the fewest immigrants (places like Estonia, with significant child poverty, and Canada, with more immigrant students than the United States, now top the charts). All those factors matter, but they interact with other critical conditions to create brilliance—or not.
In her ballyhooed 2013 book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Ripley included several passages which seemed baldly dishonest. These remarks about poverty and immigration seem to conform to that pattern.
It's true! The highest spending countries won't necessarily produce the highest test scores. No one has ever thought different.
Things start getting murky with Ripley's remarks about "child poverty." On a cross-cultural, international basis, poverty is hard to define and measure. Analysts start talking about relative poverty rather than absolute poverty. Ripley lets this conceptual problem slide in these latest remarks.
Please note: With these remarks, Ripley is batting aside perfectly sensible explanations for lower scores in American schools with lots of low-income and immigrant kids. Within the world of so-called "education reform," such explanations are known as "excuses" and as "reasons for privatization." Propagandists and true believers love the kinds of remarks Ripley is fashioning here.
It's Ripley's remarks about immigration which really give a truth-teller pause. Ripley seems to be working a scam with those comments. Given certain things she wrote in her ballyhooed book, it almost seems that this must be deliberate.
It's true! You can't assume that countries with lots of immigrant kids will be the worst performers—and Canada does make a good example. Canada has lots of immigrant kids, and it does do fairly well on both the Timss and the Pisa.
(Full disclosure: American kids outscored their Canadian peers on the 2015 Timss. You aren't likely to learn such facts from either the Post or the Times.)
Canada has lots of immigrant kids, and it does fairly well on these international tests. But alas! As Ripley knows, it isn't simply how many immigrant kids you have; it's also where they come from.
Canada's immigrant kids are largely from Asia, with its nearly ubiquitous education-at-all-costs cultures. In Canada, immigrant kids actually tend to outscore native-born kids on international tests. That's largely because of the cultural and class backgrounds of those immigrant kids.
In this country, our immigrant kids are more likely to come from low-income, low-education backgrounds. This creates a different kind of challenge for public schools and their teachers. It's perfectly clear from Ripley's book that she understands these basic facts. But there she went again last week, telling roughly half the story in service to preferred story lines from the cult of "reform."
Ripley's book seemed baldly dishonest in more than a couple of spots. Her treatment of Finland's alleged success with its immigrant kids was one of the most glaring such passages.
Ripley seemed to be lying about that success, but she succeeded in conveying desired impressions. For a basic blow-by-blow, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/14/16.
Is Amanda Ripley a propagandist? At best, she's a true believer. She does succeed in promulgating standard preferred story lines.
Is Ripley a shill, or just a believer? Either way, the New York Times should be embarrassed for putting her work in print.
In the process, Ripley and the Times seems to have disappeared the Timss. Half the data have thus gone away. There's a name for such work: