Three of the world's most wonderful places!


You're only told about two:
Propaganda is often about the things you aren't allowed to know.

With that in mind, let's return to Amanda Ripley's recent report in the New York Times about last year's Pisa.

Public school students in the world's developed nations take part in two different sets of international tests—the Pisa and the Timss. Ripley disappears the Timss, only mentions the Pisa.

In her recent report for the Times, she followed the standard "ed reform" line. In this passage, she mentioned a wonderful "handful of places" which help put the U.S. to shame:
RIPLEY (12/8/16): For now, the PISA reveals brutal truths about America's education system: Math, a subject that reliably predicts children's future earnings, continues to be the United States' weakest area at every income level. Nearly a third of American 15-year-olds are not meeting a baseline level of ability—the lowest level the O.E.C.D. believes children must reach in order to thrive as adults in the modern world.

And affluence is no guarantee of better results, particularly in science and math: The latest PISA data (which includes private-school students) shows that America's most advantaged teenagers scored below their well-off peers in science in 20 other countries, including Canada and Britain.

The good news is that a handful of places, including Estonia, Canada, Denmark and Hong Kong, are proving that it is possible to do much better. These places now educate virtually all their children to higher levels of critical thinking in math, reading and science—and do so more equitably than Americans do.
Ripley's report was the New York Times' only report about last year's Pisa and Timss. (She never mentioned the Timss.)

As we noted in an earlier post, we have no idea why Denmark was listed among that "handful of places" (data below). For today, let's focus on little Estonia, which is now clearly being sold as "the New Finland."

Let's also focus on Finland itself, which, for the past fifteen years, has been sold as a public school superpower. And let's focus on a third place. Let's focus on Massachusetts, whose population (6.8 million) matches that of tiny Estonia and little Finland combined.

We've all been propagandized for years concerning miraculous Finland. It's now clear that tiny Estonia is the new international sell.

We want to give you a fuller look at the way Massachusetts students have performed as compared to their peers in those other places, which may well have excellent schools. As we do, we're hoping to help you see what propaganda looks like.

Massachusetts participated in last year's Pisa as an independent entity. Below, you see the way its students scored as compared to those in Estonia and Finland.

According to Ripley, 39 points on the Pisa scale is equal to one academic year. We're including scores for Massachusetts' white students for reasons we've explained many times, and will explain again down below:
Average scores, Pisa 2015
Science literacy:

Estonia: 534
Finland: 531
Massachusetts: 529
Massachusetts, white students: 546

Reading literacy:
Massachusetts: 527
Finland: 526
Estonia: 519
Massachusetts, white students: 540

Math literacy:
Estonia: 520
Finland: 511
Massachusetts: 500
Massachusetts, white students: 514
In science literacy and reading literacy, the scores are basically the same. Using Ripley's rule of thumb, Massachusetts is about a half-year behind Estonia in math literacy.

The Bay State's white students—the state's "majority culture" kids—outscored their peers in these ballyhooed lands in both science and reading. We offer this comparison because, in Finland and Estonia, the students are pretty much all "majority culture" kids.

Those were the results on last year's Pisa. That said, U.S. kids tend to do better on the Timss, the test Ripley disappears.

Massachusetts took the Timss as an independent entity in 2011. This is the way its scores compared to those from Finland. Estonia didn't take part:
Average scores, Timss 2011
Grade 8 math:

Massachusetts: 561
Finland: 514
Massachusetts, white students: 572

Grade 8 science:
Massachusetts: 567
Finland: 552
Massachusetts, white students: 587
Estonia took the Timss only once, in 2003. (The Timss is administered every four years.) Here's what their scores looked like:
Average scores, Estonia, Timss 2003
Grade 8 math: 531
Grade 8 science: 552
Massachusetts participated as an independent entity for the first time in 2007. These were the Bay State scores:
Average scores, Massachusetts, Timss 2007
Grade 8 math: 547
Grade 8 science: 556
Massachusetts is bigger than Finland. It's five times Estonia's size.

Its demographics are more challenging, but it has performed at least as well as these storied locales on the world's international tests. But, for whatever reason, you're not allowed to know that. Our education experts fly from Logan, eager to learn from that handful of places located Over There.

Bay State scores are disappeared. There's a word for this practice, which is quite uniform. It looks to us like propaganda, of the ed reform kind.

There's something quite average in Denmark: In the New York Times, Ripley talked up Denmark. She said it's one of "a handful of places" which are proving that we can "do much better."

We have no idea why. These were Denmark's average scores on last year's Pisa:
Average scores, Denmark, Pisa 2015
Science literacy: 502
Reading literacy: 500
Math literacy: 511
Why was Ripley peddling Denmark? We don't have the slightest idea. You will have to tell us!


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  2. Bob, I have been saying it for years. The reason American kids are not so good in Math is because it is being taught at a 'million miles an hour' pace, set by the few best students in the class. The rest of the students are left in the dust, even though they may love math and are good at it, but just don't pick it up as fast. Its always been that way. Nobody ever seems to talk about this to me obvious fact. I use to love algebra but once the few smart kids and the teacher took off, the rest of us were left behind and allowed to sink, wondering what the heck happened.

    1. Interesting personal story, but what in the world does it have to do with the topic?

    2. What do the bright kids do in class while waiting for others to catch up?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. On Dec 21, Kevin Drum had a post about the increased % of young people living with parents. He notes correctly that the increase started long before the recent hard times and thus cannot be considered purely an economic trend. He suggests it may be due to deferred marriage age.

    He neglects that adult children living with family members is a long-standing tradition among minority cultures. Their percentage in the US population has been increasing steadily over the same time period and may account for much, if not all of the noted increase. Not only do adult children live with parents before and after marriage, but extended families live together, including grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. It is a WASP family trend to have nuclear families as opposed to extended families in the same household.

    This is an example of why diversity is important. Kevin Drum cannot interpret statistical trends if he doesn't have the background knowledge to suggest plausible explanations.

    1. Apparently your background knowledge is unaware that it was also a long-standing tradition among WASPs, until they got rich enough to no longer have to do it.

      There's my dad's cousin in the 1930 census living with his parents and grandparents. Not at all unusual. While the 1940 census does not show them living together, it shows they were near neighbors. It is listed as son, dad, son, brothers of the dad all near neighbors.

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  7. Tanj, I could have sworn that I explained Denmark, but apparently there was something rotten in my explanation.

    Here it is again, as a Christmas present. Irregardless of the average score, Denmark has very high marks for having the lowest percentage of math students who score badly.

    Tanj does that seem convoluted, even to me. Basically because they are leaving very few children behind.

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