kitchen table math, the sequel: it isn't the culture, stupid

Saturday, December 18, 2010

it isn't the culture, stupid

Barry G on the new international comparisons

The news last week that Shanghai students achieved the top scores in math on the international PISA exam was for some of us not exactly a wake-up call (as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan characterized it) or a Sputnik moment (as President Obama called it).

We've seen this result before. We've seen the reactions and the theories and the excuses that purport to explain why the US does so poorly in math. In fact, there are three main variations used to explain why Chinese/Asian students do so well in international exams:

Version 1: They are taught using rote learning and then regurgitate the results on exams that test how well they memorize the procedures of how to solve specific problems.

Version 2: They are taught using the reform methods of a "problem based approach" that doesn't rely on drills, and instills critical thinking and higher order thinking skills

Version 3: The teacher or the culture produces the proper conditions for learning

This argument is based on the observation that the education-valued culture manifests itself in ways that are unlikely to happen here: long school days, after-school math “clubs” in which math facts and procedures are drilled (pointed to by some as evidence that students in China are engaging in rote learning), long hours studying and teachers who know the subject matter extremely well. . . . The “culture argument” also paints a picture of U.S. culture as totally oblivious to educational values and ignores the subcultures that place a value equal to that seen in China and other countries. Those are the students whose goals are to enter the top universities in the US, who work very hard and take AP classes and exams. Some of the parents of those students have protested against the adoption of substandard math programs such as Investigations in Number, Data and Space, and Everyday Math. These are the parents who have been told by school boards that the traditional method of teaching math may have worked for some, but not for all. Those are the parents who have discovered that the traditional methods of teaching math (in the 50’s and 60’s) work very well indeed, and are similar in some respects to how it is taught overseas.


decline at the top

Speaking of our best students, the other reaction to mediocre U.S. performance on international tests I've seen -- which shows up in the comments to Barry's article -- is the claim that our best students are doing as well as the best students elsewhere. This is a variant of the 'culture' argument: American  slackers are bringing down the mean.

Not true.

Here's a passage from the Baltimore Curriculum Project video. In this section, William Schmidt, who headed one of the TIMSS studies, is talking about the best American students:
8:05 Schmidt: This system of ours has failed the elite kids, too. This is a little known fact because it wasn't emphasized very much, but in the early TIMSS study there was a high school specialist exam for those kids that were the AP physics kids and those that were the AP calculus kids. Those kids were last among their counterparts in the rest of the world. That is, if you took the elite track in the French system that was leading to math and science, these [American] kids were at the bottom. So we're failing those kids just as much as we're failing the kids on the other spectrum.

William Schmidt Baltimore Curriculum Project
Dr. William H. Schmidt of Michigan State University
Leading Minds K-12 Math Education Forum, April 24, 2008 in Baltimore.
U.S. TIMSS NATIONAL RESEARCH COORDINATOR
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
12th grade

51 comments:

Crimson Wife said...

I do think a lot of it is cultural. If the typical American placed as much value on learning as the typical Asian, we wouldn't have programs like "Every Day Mathematics" but rather widespread use of programs similar to Singapore Primary Math. Is there a minority of parents who do very much value education? Absolutely. But unfortunately, American culture as a whole is very much anti-intellectual :-(

In the town where we lived up until 2009, there was a push to get a STEM-focused charter high school. Over and over again I heard the objection that the school wouldn't have the athletic facilities to support varsity team sports. Because everyone knows, the true purpose of a high school is to sponsor a football team...

Anonymous said...

I would be happy, delighted even, to have schools eliminate all sports and extracurriculars except some low-key form of student government. Those activities could be done in many combinations of parks & rec and private clubs, since almost all have well-established extra-school competition paths (football possibly excepted; I just don't know). Debate, literary magazine, newspaper etc. would be taken as an academic class, as is often done now.

Additionally, lots of problems (both academic and discipline) would be solved by lowering the dropout age to 14 or completion of 8th grade. Forcing kids who don't have the ability and/or interest to spend another 4 years in school is a recipe for trouble.

Anonymous said...

If they don't have the ability to stay in school, they belong in special ed, not on the streets doing nothing.

ari-free

Allison said...

--We ranked behind (in order):

China,Singapore,Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Finland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Netherlands, Macao, New Zealand, Belgium, Australia, Germany, Estonia, Iceland, Denmark, Slovenia, Norway, France, Slovak Republic, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic, UK, Hungary and Luxembourg.

Are you REALLY going to say the US culture is more anti intellectual than ALL of the above countries?

If you argument is about ethnic groups, say so. But to suggest that somehow all of the above places in Europe and Asia have a home life committed to learning math moreso than we do is suspect.

Allison said...

--"If the typical American placed as much value on learning as the typical Asian we wouldn't have programs like "Every Day Mathematics" but rather widespread use of programs similar to Singapore Primary Math"

Singapore doesn't use Primary Math anymore. China is moving toward programs committed to "higher order thinking" rather than skills. The Japanese spent the last decade going that route. Europe is all on board with constructivist mathematics now.

There is no underlying commitment to the teaching of mathematics from sound mathematical principals in any of these places.

Knowledge Based Science said...

I'll go ahead and say it: The U.S. is more anti-intellectual than all of the above countries.

A "home life committed to learning math" though? I have no idea. I would have no idea what that sort of home life would look like, or whether it would even be necessary for learning math.

IOW, It's the Curriculum, Stupid.

- Hainish

Allison said...

Really? You've been to New Zealand and Poland and Slovenia to judge that? Taken a broad cultural survey of city and suburban life in those places, of varieties of SES, immigrant cultures, have you?

Your statement is unsupportable, and you make the rest of your argument weaker because of it.

SteveH said...

Barry wrote:

"Let's hope we stop bickering about what's happening overseas and take a look at what we've already done."


It has been shown clearly that the teaching of math in K-8 has to be improved and that standards have to be raised. Many in the K-8 education community continue to water down these expectations or screw up the details, i.e., "trust the spiral". They are the ones who are anti-intellectual.

Look at the sample math questions for the NAEP test or a typical state math test. They are very simple. Even if some parents are anti-intellectual, how or why would that stop schools from teaching math properly? I've never heard the argument that schools teach math a particular way because parents have low expectations for their kids.

I find it incredible that the culture issue is raised at KTM when we're talking about such trivial levels of learning. What is the cutoff point for this, learning to tie your shoes? Learning the times table? Schools can't even complete this trivial task when most kids have math for one hour a day. Is this because parents are anti-intellectual?

One could make the argument that if most parents really understood math, there would be no such thing as Everyday Math in schools. That's a stretch, and it's much more than a simple anti-intellectual issue. Is that what's happening in all of the other countries? Barry links to reports from experts that clearly define the problem. Are these somehow less influential than anti-intellectual (or is it really apathetic?) parents? Isn't the goal of education to try to help kids in spite of what's going on at home?

It's obvious that parents can make a huge difference in the education of a child, but that shouldn't be required. What is the cutoff point? Schools love to tell parents to "model" an interest in education, turn off the TV, and check to see that homework is done. Is that all it takes? We learn otherwise when we get notes from school telling us to work on math facts with our kids.

So what, exactly, do they expect from parents so they no longer have a "culture" excuse? If certain parents are willing to sign a document agreeing to all of these expectations, what is a school going to do in return, separate kids by willingness and offer a more rigorous education? Are they offering an alternate path for "intellectual" parents?

K-8 schools don't reflect parents. They reflect Ed schools and their own educational and philosophical biases. They are more than happy, however, to play the culture or poverty card when results don't look good. It's a plausible argument, and it has the added benefit that it allows them to continue to do whatever they want with only the low end pressure of state tests. Unfortunately, they have a tough time with those.

Amy P said...

I don't know all of those places, but I know something about Eastern Europe (I'm married to a Pole and have done a lot of Russian-oriented stuff) and there really are a lot of smart, smart Eastern Europeans. There's not a lot of shame in getting beaten by countries that have a strong math/science orientation in their national curricula and have trained millions of engineers over the years.

I'm pretty much the last person to make excuses for US curriculum and pedagogy failures, but let's be fair. Here are a few more observations:

1. Notice how there aren't any BIG countries on the list except China. A big country like the US (or Russia) is just likely to be more average. Russians are smart and have a strong math and science orientation in their schools, and yet they aren't performing at the same level as several smaller Eastern European countries. Slovenia is 1) small 2) Slavic 3) shares a long border with high-performing Austria 4) managed to escape nearly all of the horrors of the intra-Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s.

2. I wouldn't put it past the Chinese to be cheating on an epic scale, since it is such a major issue of national pride. Repressive countries often put on Potemkin villages to impress foreigners. China's presence on the list is suspicious. I expect smart Chinese are very smart (like smart Russians are), but the average Chinese person may not be. Remember also that due to the Cultural Revolution, there was a huge disruption in education for hundreds of millions of Chinese, so a lot of cultural and educational capital was not passed down successfully.

3. With the exception of the New Zealanders and Canadians, English-speaking countries are generally weak performers. Note also the lack of Spanish-speaking countries or southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, Italy).

Anyway, all things being equal, this wouldn't be a total embarrassment for the US. The thing that makes it embarrassing is how much money and resources we spend for mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little bit less sure now about "hundreds of millions." Let's say "millions"--that's safer.

Allison said...

--I don't know all of those places, but I know something about Eastern Europe (I'm married to a Pole and have done a lot of Russian-oriented stuff) and there really are a lot of smart, smart Eastern Europeans.

And there aren't really a lot of smart, smart Americans?!?!?!? Many of whom are descendants of those self same Eastern Europeans? You think it's because Americans are *dumber* that our scores are terrible????

This is absurd. I can match your anecdote with mine--my family is from Poland, and lo, there is no grand intellectual tradition in their worldview or that of their peers and neighbors. You learn at school, and you worked at home, and you were otherwise ignored. No one thought to help you with your studies, or read books for enjoyment.

If you want to argue that our problems are because, say, the Somalia immigrant population here is totally unequipped to start school, and their children have not so much as been given a toy let alone taught their colors and numbers, you can make that argument, but of course, the Netherlands have the same problem yet outscored us.

You can argue that some kids receive more help at home and others don't, but in Sweden they don't even START SCHOOL until 7, and yet outperform us.

These are not cultures with some significant "intellectualism" that America lacks. Humanity is not intellectual as a rule, and never has been.

Our problems are deep and not easily solvable, but this "culture" argument is a way to get curriculum and ed schools off the hook. If they believed in teaching students rather than students learning, they would teach them regardless of their home culture or background preparation.

Allison said...

--there was a huge disruption in education for hundreds of millions of Chinese, so a lot of cultural and educational capital was not passed down successfully.

Did you mean this as a euphemism for "they murdered millions of people, disproportionately the smart and/or educated ones" ? I'd rather call a spade a spade.

Crimson Wife said...

What about the demonstrated trend for 1st generation immigrants to America to academically outperform 2nd generation immigrants, who in turn outperform the 3rd generation? And the negative effect of U.S. culture isn't limited to any one immigrant group- it happens to East Asians, South Asians, Mexicans, Central & South Americans, Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Eastern Europeans, etc. There is something particularly negative about U.S. culture. And it isn't the schools, because many of the high-performing 1st generation kids came to this country when they were very young and went through our system.

Cranberry said...

--We ranked behind (in order):

China,Singapore,Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Finland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Netherlands, Macao, New Zealand, Belgium, Australia, Germany, Estonia, Iceland, Denmark, Slovenia, Norway, France, Slovak Republic, Austria, Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic, UK, Hungary and Luxembourg.

Are you REALLY going to say the US culture is more anti intellectual than ALL of the above countries?

If you argument is about ethnic groups, say so. But to suggest that somehow all of the above places in Europe and Asia have a home life committed to learning math moreso than we do is suspect.


They all have fewer televisions per capita than the US.
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/med_tel_percap-media-televisions-per-capita

They all have fewer divorces per capita than the US.
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate

We have more personal computers per capita (2004 data) than the other countries, with the exception of Sweden, San Marino, and Switzerland:
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/med_per_com_percap-media-personal-computers-per-capita

Our elementary students spend a smaller proportion of education time learning foreign languages: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/edu_pro_of_pri_edu_tim_spe_lea_for_lan-time-spent-learning-foreign-languages

Never fear! They balance it out by spending a larger proportion of time in physical education: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/edu_pro_of_pri_edu_tim_spe_in_phy_edu-proportion-primary-time-spent-physical

Yes, I'll say that the US culture is more anti-intellectual than the other countries.

Look at the choices we make, in comparison to the others. It's not income. We have a higher national gross national income per capita than the other countries on your list, excepting only Norway, Switzerland and Japan: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/eco_gro_nat_inc_percap-gross-national-income-per-capita.

ChemProf said...

OK, but then we come back to where I wind up a lot, when I read the teacher comments at joannejacobs. If it is all culture, and there really isn't much we can do, why exactly is the state taking so much of my paycheck to do so little?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone here tell me what a, say, 25 point gap means? Is this equivalent to 1 grade level (the kids 25 points behind will be where the ahead kids are in one academic year)? Or 1 week? Or what?

I'd love to get super worked up over this, too, but it would help if I could translate these numbers into something I understand.

-Mark Roulo

Glen said...

@Mark: My recollection is that the scoring system was intended to produce a mean of 500 with a standard deviation of 100. But, I don't know the details such as whether the data points are countries, sub-countries (e.g., US states), schools, individuals, or whether the "500" is defined by this year's scores or by some fixed standard (to reveal world change over time), etc.

The best performers in the world (on a country basis) cluster at around half a standard deviation above the mean of 500. At least the East Asian groups in this cluster tend to resemble one other closely in all factors people tend to associate with educational achievement. Shanghai, though, not apparently different in any of those genetic, cultural, or education system factors from the other East Asians, scores a full half SD above them. Yeah, sure.

On the other hand, seeing how my nieces and nephews in Shanghai study math compared to how my neighbors do here (Silicon Valley), I wouldn't believe it if Shanghai didn't significantly outscore the US. I think Shanghai belongs in the 550 cluster with the other E Asians, but that's just my estimate. I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Glen, but I still would be much happier if I could translate this into "grade level deficit." The problem with a standard deviation here is that you'll get the same distribution (assuming that the data is normal ... lets not worry about that) for no matter if the spread is years of equivalent schooling or days.

I'll be much more worried if the US is, say, 2-3 years behind Finland than if the US is 2-3 weeks behind.

From the data, I just can't tell.

-Thanks,
Mark Roulo

Knowledge Based Science said...

Your statement is unsupportable, and you make the rest of your argument weaker because of it.

I'm not going to get too worked up over whether my opinion on U.S. anti-intellectualism is supportable (though someone up there did find support for it...thanks!). And you shouldn't get worked up about either! I haven't lived in a bubble all my life. My impression might disagree with yours. That's fine.

I'm also not sure what you think the rest of my argument is. I agree with the OP!

- Hainish

Allison said...

This is why Irvington uses Trailblazers, right? Because Catherine and her neighbors don't value learning the way the "typical" Asian does or the
"typical" European?

If culture at home were the reason, then the Irvington children would be succeeding. Instead, kids there can't succeed at algebra, outside tutoring and afterschooling is rampant to bring kids up to even marginally decent SAT scores, and 20% or more need remedial reading instruction. If you really think that Irvington's culture is less oriented toward succeeding in school than the median in the above 31 countries, I think nothing will change your worldview, regardless of data.

Knowledge Based Science said...

Allison, I have to ask: who are you addressing?

Anonymous said...

How many parents are afterschooling their kids? I'd say very few compared to the number of parents who have no problem with letting their kids spend hours and hours on TV, internet, video games and sports.

ari-free

Amy P said...

Allison,

As you probably know, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, there was a very specific educational dimension in that Mao was using students to terrorize teachers and professors. Additionally young people from intellectual families were sent away from their families to work in the villages and learn from the peasants, to the detriment of their educations (however, the educational process in the schools had more or less shut down, in favor of political theater, so they weren't missing out on much). There was a general breakdown of the mechanisms by which cultural information is transmitted, because during the Cultural Revolution, the idea was that the old had nothing to teach the young, and that the young would teach the old. (Hey, that's starting to sound familiar!)

It sounds like your Poles are different from my Poles. My Poles are high strung, neurotic, hypochondriac, achievement oriented, aristocratic, and a little snobbish.

Cranberry,

I'd give us a break on the TVs, since our houses are much bigger.

cranberry said...

I'll sound very judgemental, and I apologize. However, in my opinion, larger houses don't excuse more tvs. Some of the countries which came close to our per capita tv statistics are holiday destinations. Think of all those hotel rooms, each with its own tv.

I think when a family can offer each family member her own tv, it has an effect on academic attainment. Multiply that across a country, and it influences schooling.

Glen said...

There are certainly cultural differences between countries, and between subcultures within the US, that create differences in educational outcomes. But, a lack of interest in their children's academic achievement is not characteristic of most American parents. Most American parents would like to see their children become academic stars, and are doing what they think they ought to do to make their children academically successful.

The problem is not the culture of American society but the culture of American educrats. Cultural values play a large role in what different cultures are good at producing. Cultures that value math over machismo produce more famous scientists than famous boxers. American educrat culture values many things far above "mere" knowledge. It should come as no surprise, then, that it produces so little of it compared to educational systems with different priorities.

If American parents knew more about the mismatch between their values and those of educrats, they would do more to change the system, but most think that educators are the experts at maximizing their child's educational progress. They assume that following the instructions sent home by the school is the best thing to do. Educrats do whatever they can to encourage this belief. If American society changed its culture, suddenly became even MORE interested in their children's academic success, yes, they might turn off the TV earlier, but to do what? To give the educrats, the experts, more of their child's time to waste? Have them cut more pictures out of magazines for their Everyday Math project on who uses math? Write another poem about their favorite equation?

The culture of the educrats, and American parents' lack of understanding of it--not Americans' lack of interest in education--is the main problem. Since the educrats won't voluntarily change their culture, making more parents aware of what their child is really learning (via far more extensive and revealing measurement) is probably the only solution.

SteveH said...

"The problem is not the culture of American society but the culture of American educrats."

That's my position too. You can see that it isn't a parent-culture issue in places like Irvington. There may be parent-culture issues in other places, but you have to try to quantify what that means. Do these issues mean that we can't expect kides to learn the times table or fractions at school? Does it mean that we can't expect all kids to easily get over the low cutoffs on state tests? I've looked at released questions on our state test and I have looked at the raw percent correct scores. You really have to do this to get a feel for how bad the problem is. You can do this without even considering international test scores.

It's easy to claim that this is caused by kids who don't care rather than teachers who don't teach, but KTM and others have proved over the years that teaching and curriculum play a huge role in the bad numbers. Talk of culture doesn't help solve the problem unless you use it to define exactly what schools expect from parents to be able to do their jobs properly. I'll be glad to be on the schools' side if they are willing to get past the sloppy arguments and talk details of curriculum and pedagogy with the parents and community. I was appointed to a Citizen's Curriculum Committee once, but it never held one meeting. It was clear that the schools didn't want any interference in what they considered to be their privilege.

Schools could easily separate kids who are willing or able from kids who are not. We're not talking about whether parents have the culture to support kids who want to to get into a good college. We're talking about learning the basics; those things that could easily be learned during the school day with no need for homework. Many kids in my son's old private school didn't know their times table in fifth grade, so why are we even talking about parent-culture. What, exactly, do people expect from parents?

Crimson Wife said...

Glen- I disagree, I don't think the typical American parent places a very high emphasis on learning. Sure, most parents want to see their kids go to college but that's not the same thing. I've lived most of my life in upper-middle class suburbs that are similar demographically to Irvington. I've observed a big difference in the way the typical Asian-American parent treats academics and the way most white parents do.

Both are usually angling for admission to an Ivy caliber school and a high GPA & class rank. But Asians tend to be much more concerned with whether their children actually master academic content. An Asian kid coming home with a 95% on a test is typically criticized for the missed problems and required to re-learn the material while the white kid with a 95% gets praised. Asian families also tend to place a much higher emphasis on participating in academic competitions while whites tend to place a greater emphasis on doing well in athletics.

Of course, these are broad generalizations and there are plenty of white families who act more like the typical Asian one.

cranberry said...

"...there are plenty of white families who act more like the typical Asian one."

That's true. We often notice at academic extracurricular events, the ratio of white-to-Asian families shifts. It's a predictable group of white and Asian families. That small subgroup doesn't make much of a difference in the nation's scores, though.

I would say that culture has a huge influence on academics. It influences curricular choices. Look at our elementary curricula. We want learning to be fun. We want to play games, rather than work. I lost track of how many times Everyday Math tried to encourage students and their families to play really, really boring "math games" together. It would be less effort, more effective, and more interesting, to memorize math facts to automaticity, than to rely upon the EM math games to do the job. Also, considering how many US children are NOT in traditional families, getting that homeworkk done can be a real challenge.

In this generation, we seem uncomfortable with the idea that something could be wrong. Think of the silly effort to ban red pens in correcting. Unfortunately, when learning basic facts, in my opinion, it's most helpful to get immediate, accurate feedback on student work.

Some people seem to have internalized too many sports themes. How else can one explain the insistence upon group work and heterogeneity in the classroom?

SteveH said...

When Barry talks about how it's not the culture, he isn't talking about what it takes to get into an Ivy League school. Besides, the top kids are not just working hard with the schools providing the shining path. They are defining their own paths. They get tutoring. I'm one of those parents who makes sure my son understands why he only gets a 95 rather than 100 on a test. We do extra work at home. I see what level that helps.

I also remember in K-8 all the work I did just to make sure he could write properly and that he mastered basic math. Clearly, the schools aren't doing their job. Do we then point to the best students and claim that it's just a culture issue? That's the excuse schools love to use.

We don't need to work backwards from international test numbers. We know what the problem is. (That's Barry's point!) We see it with our kids. K-8 schools teach math badly and they don't expect mastery of the basics. They do what they want and they ignore input from experts in math, science, and engineering. That is the Ed school culture and it's extrordinarily difficult to change. That's why many parents create their own paths. Is that what we expect from parents?

Cranberry said...

In high school, many of the best students are under pressure to create an attractive resume for college admissions. That is not merely academic. If a student aims for the top colleges, it is held to be better to be "well-rounded," or to "have a passion," than to be a sterling student. Sports, extracurriculars, community service, part-time jobs... It all takes time. Very few students in the top tracks in other countries are required to balance as many competing commitments. These activities may have their own worth, but they cut down on the time students have available to study.

It is a feature of our culture that entry into the most elite schools is not predicated upon academics.

Amy P said...

"I lost track of how many times Everyday Math tried to encourage students and their families to play really, really boring "math games" together."

*Shudder* I've seen those outside of Everyday Math, too (mostly for little kids), but the Everyday Math ones have got to be worse. I always hated the ones with massive setup, where you're supposed to collect a bunch of objects from your house. (Gah! Where in the house do I have a cone?)

With regard to TV, I think I've heard that Japanese kids spend lots of time watching TV, even more so than US children.

Cranberry said...

The Japanese kids go from school to after-school, though, don't they? If we were to compare time spent on different activities, they might spend less time on soccer and ballet, but more time studying.

The US kids are not only watching tv. The Kaiser Foundation study released this year was interesting, in a grim sort of way.

Kids and teens ages 8 to 18 spend seven-and-a-half hours a day, seven days a week, engaging with media, more time than they spend with any other activity besides sleeping. That number jumps to 10 hours and 45 minutes a day when taking into account that young people often engage with more than one form of media at a time.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/01/20/health/healthy_living/main6120342.shtml

Maybe they're listening to music while dutifully doing their homework. Or, maybe they're watching YouTube before cutting and pasting from Wikipedia.

Yes, some American students are working very hard at their studies. However, they're a small subset of the whole, and even they are under pressure to be "well-rounded."

Amy P said...

"If we were to compare time spent on different activities, they might spend less time on soccer and ballet, but more time studying."

Presumably. I wonder how music figures in? We're good friends with a Korean-Korean (rather than Korean-American) family locally, and they take the children's piano practice VERY seriously. The five-year-old is so good on the piano that he makes me a bit embarrassed by the fact that my kids just want to bang on the keys. (My husband is tone deaf and I never had formal musical instruction, so I've figured that neither of us was competent to supervise music practice. Plus, I don't want to.)

Our kids often listen to audiobooks from librivox.org, but I suppose that American kids aren't running up their average media exposure time by listening to the Wind in the Willows on car trips.

Amy P said...

"However, they're a small subset of the whole, and even they are under pressure to be "well-rounded.""

Indeed. And we haven't even started talking about "service" and "leadership."

Crimson Wife said...

With regard to TV, I think I've heard that Japanese kids spend lots of time watching TV, even more so than US children.

I wish I had a copy of The Learning Gap handy for the exact stats but it was notable how much more time Asian students spend on academic-related pursuits (school, homework, reading) compared to the American students. It worked out to be something like 10.5 hours per day for the Asians vs. only 7.5 for the Americans. The Americans watched close to double the amount of TV of the Asians (bad) but they also spent an extra 90 minutes per week on household chores (a good thing IMHO). Very interesting book!

palisadesk said...

A good companion volume to The Learning Gap is Laurence Steinberg's Beyond the Classroom which takes a good luck at non-school factors that impact U.S. students' performance. It's not your usual blame-the-culture-the-schools-are-great screed; rather, a sobering and thought-provoking look at other variables that make a huge difference.

I would have to look up the exact stat, but one finding that stuck with me was that third-generation Asian American kids perform pretty much like their non-Asian peers; the cultural advantage from their parents and grandparents wears off.

Steinberg raises a number of issues to which there are no facile answers but it's a gripping read, well documented and researched.

Glen said...

CrimsonWife: Both [white & Asian-Am parents] are usually angling for admission to an Ivy caliber school and a high GPA & class rank. But Asians tend to be much more concerned with whether their children actually master academic content....Of course, these are broad generalizations and there are plenty of white families who act more like the typical Asian one.

I agree. I'm not saying that suburban white US culture is the same as Asian (re: edu), I'm saying that most US parents are interested enough in academic success that their culture is not the main problem. Educrat culture is.

Suppose, for example, that schools started hiring math teachers with Asian-style training in how to teach math, the directly trained teachers directly trained the students (instead of students teaching each other) using a math curriculum that just taught math rather than "engaging in mathematical discourse" on whatever social issue the educrats wanted to push, etc. This would dramatically improve the amount of math kids learned in the same amount of time they already spend in school and doing homework.

So why don't we do it? Who would be more likely to propose such changes, parents or educrats? Who would fight vehemently to block such improvements, most US parents or educrats? Whose culture is the MAIN impediment to such an upgrade?

If educrat culture changed to support the above approach, US culture wouldn't stand in their way. Even if mainstream US parents are not as focused on academics as Asian parents, they care about it enough that they would go along if the educrats, the "experts", said this would produce better academic results.

On the other hand, if US culture was the thing that changed and, for example, everyone decided to turn off the TV earlier, what would happen? Educrats would just have more of kids' time to waste with their "anything but knowledge" activities. As evidence, look at communities like Palo Alto, where there are a LOT of Asian parents and "plenty of white parents acting like Asians". Are these communities, these more-Asian-like subcultures, getting Everyday Math thrown out and implementing the changes I mentioned above? Hardly. Educrats won't stand for it and see their job as one of converting the parents with marketing campaigns promoting educrat culture.

Parents here, just like parents in Asia, think the educrats are the experts and rely on them to educate their children properly. If US parents cared even more about academics than they already do, they would just be like Palo Alto or Irvington parents, still relying on the same educrats, whose culture isn't the only problem but is the main problem.

Katharine Beals said...

"Europe is all on board with constructivist mathematics now."

Allison, can you please elaborate? Which European countries are you talking about? Which grade levels are affected, what curricular changes have occurred, and how have classroom practices been effected?

Katharine Beals said...

*affected*, that is.

Anonymous said...

"why exactly is the state taking so much of my paycheck to do so little?"

don't you know there's a *war* on?

Amy P said...

Steve Sailer (insert necessary boilerplate about him being racist and aren't his commentors terrible) just did a very interesting chart on the PISA reading results for 2009.

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/101219_pisa.htm

Sailer breaks down the US results by race and inserts those numbers into the international rankings. Interestingly, each US racial group scores competitively with the corresponding countries: Asian-Americans score competitively with Asian countries, whites are competitive with Northern Europeans, US Hispanics do much better than Latin Americans, African-Americans beat out 20 different countries.

I'm very far from thinking that everybody's working at their full potential (and it's highly debatable how much credit the school system deserves for those numbers), but the numbers actually are somewhat encouraging.

Amy P said...

On the other hand, I expect that the math PISA results broken down by race are probably not so nice. We have had a huge reading push over the past couple decades, and it seems to have paid off.

Bostonian said...

Amy P wrote: "Steve Sailer (insert necessary boilerplate about him being racist and aren't his commentors terrible) just did a very interesting chart on the PISA reading results for 2009."

I have been reading Steve Sailer for some time and don't think he is "racist" in the sense of wishing ill toward or having having unreasonably negative beliefs about any racial group. The evidence from IQ tests, the SAT (a quasi-IQ test), achievement tests, and grades consistently has Blacks and Hispanics about 1 sd and 2/3 sd below whites and East Asians about 1/3 sd above.

Barry Garelick said...

Good discussion here; I've enjoyed reading the back and forth. My wife, who majored in anthropology, reminds me that culture always plays a role, so I'm afraid that the title of my article was misleading. My point is that there are gross generalizations and simplistic arguments made about culture that are more misleading than the title of my article. I think Glen's comment above summarizes things nicely. The culture of the education ministries in Asia is definitely different than the culture of the US educrats. It isn't likely that we would see China, Singapore and Japan adopting Investigations, Everyday Math, or Trailblazers, even if they do experiment with some constructivist approaches to teaching math.

Katharine Beals said...

Among the most toxic of these generalizations is that a particular math curriculum developed in a particular country, say Singapore's Singapore Math, has cultural features that make it impossible or difficult to use in countries whose cultures are significantly different. Yes, I've actually heard precisely that argument made about why it wouldn't work to implement Singapore Math across the US. How can a free society like ours succeed with a math curriculum produced by a culture so strict that it doesn't let people chew gum?

On a different note, can someone answer the question I directed to Allison yesterday about specific ways in which constructivist math has penetrated (continental) Europe? (which countries, grade levels, effects on curricula and classroom practices). I actually really need to know the answer to this question!

Thanks.

Crimson Wife said...

whites are competitive with Northern Europeans

That isn't what Hanushek found: "Twenty-four countries have a larger percentage of highly accomplished students than the 8 percent achieving at that level among the U.S. white student population in the Class of 2009." Only 5 of those 24 are predominantly Asian countries.

Cranberry said...

Crimson Wife, if you look at the site Amy P referred to, that blogger graphs the overall average performance by ethnic group. He doesn't break it down into advanced, average, below average.

Many European countries have high school equivalents which require students to specialize in certain subjects. Fine arts & music, for example, or Classical Languages, or Math & Science. I assume the lion's share of the European advanced students would be placed into, or choose to attend, the academies with a math and science emphasis.

Even the most advanced math students in the US don't get to escape the college prep curriculum. If they're fortunate, they may attend a school which will offer a wider array of math courses, or math beyond calculus. As far as I know, though, they don't get to choose to spend more time studying math & science, as that's thought to be a bad tactis vis-a-vis college admissions.

How would our advanced students' performance look, if you used time spent learning math in the classroom as a criterion?

Amy P said...

"Among the most toxic of these generalizations is that a particular math curriculum developed in a particular country, say Singapore's Singapore Math, has cultural features that make it impossible or difficult to use in countries whose cultures are significantly different."

KB, that must be a really down-the-rabbit-hole type experience to hear that.

"As far as I know, though, they don't get to choose to spend more time studying math & science, as that's thought to be a bad tactis vis-a-vis college admissions."

I think cranberry is probably correct, but it's so wrong.

Crimson Wife, I'm puzzled myself.

Crimson Wife said...

I believe the reason why we don't have the kind of selective high schools standard in many European and Asian countries is primarily a reflection of the anti-intellectualism of U.S. culture.

If we were a society that truly valued learning, then there would be a school like Boston Latin or Thomas Jefferson available in every large city and county. And students who lived in an area where the concentration of gifted students was too low to support a specialized GATE school would have access to a publicly-funded boarding school like the one in North Carolina or at the very least a virtual GATE school like Stanford's EPGY Online High School (only tuition-free).

We don't have this because the majority of Americans consider GATE "elitist" and "anti-democratic" and if certain groups are not proportionately represented among those earning admission then also "racist" and "classist".

Amy P said...

I've been thinking about this some more, and on second thought, I wonder to what extent these tests are just measuring students' rule-abidingness and desire to please authority. Outside of a few authoritarian countries, there's no personal motivation to exert yourself and do well on these international tests, and yet we read so much into them. (That set, rule-abidingness and desire to please authority themselves are pretty valuable in helping countries or ethnic communities to develop economically.)

Anonymous said...

I think CW is right about the anti-intellectual bias toward "elite" or "gifted" progams and schools. It is exacerbated by the "diversity" mania. Thomas Jefferson has been under attack for at least the last 25 years, on both issues. The third such article this school year is now on the Washington Post website.