What can America learn from the schools of other countries?

by on December 9, 2016 at 10:23 am in Data Source, Education, Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is a very good Amanda Ripley NYT piece, more than just the usual.  Here is just one of numerous interesting bits:

In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world. No other country showed as much progress on this metric. (By contrast, socioeconomic background explained 20 percent of score differences in France — and only 8 percent in Estonia.)

And this:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

For the United States, math is still clearly the weakest subject, in fact at all income levels.

1 chuck martel December 9, 2016 at 10:37 am

Too much MR reliance on NYT.

2 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:06 am

We all rely on the NYT to do the hard work. The counterfactual is real.


3 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 11:58 am

Lesson: don’t have Jeffrey Dahmer inspired artwork in your foyer and child porn* inspired artwork in your bedroom or pizza shop or Instagram connected to your pizza shop.

* highly cultured white people can appreciate naked children and suggestive positions as artwork you rubes.

PS do you think I would play Domino’s better on pizza or pasta? Also you left your black and white pizza related map on a hankerchief at the empty house.**

** direct sentences from the podesta emails.

PPS did you hear about Jared Fogle, I guess everyone has their preferences LOL***

***Direct quote from frequent musical guest and personal friend to Comet Ping Pong while playing at Comet Ping Pong at a family-friendly show all ages welcome, no really all ages are welcum.

Shut up and fuck****

**** direct quote from James “creepy af, 850k settlement from bf D. Brock” Alefantis’, artwork inside bathroom at Comet Ping Pong, family friendly I mean all ages welcome restaurant.

4 anon December 9, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Thomas, it is really nice that you are willing to self-indict with that level of craziness.

The article itself is golden, and Thomas-worthy in its claims. The author doesn’t know if the claims are true, but has no regrets, and enjoys the expanded readership which came from the story.

Moreover, and get this, she thinks that claims this is “fake news” are unfair.

5 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 12:18 pm

I reported the facts, if you think having pictures of children naked in your bedroom is normal then you know you go xurl; paedorights!

6 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Each one of my previous claims is verifiable. Will you go on the record now to state that if I can provide direct evidence of what I claimed that you will go away and never come back?

7 anon December 9, 2016 at 12:22 pm

I think that none of those claims are true, they are just fruitcake ideas from fruitcake sources.

Feel free to drop links to anything remotely credible.

8 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Sure, Dumbass, let’s start. Here’s James alefantis bff Tony Podesta prouf of his Jeffrey dahmer and naked child “art”.


9 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Here’s the black/white pizza related map handkerchief, whatever the f that is, you willfully uninformed moron:


10 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Would i play dominos better on pizza or pasta? I don’t know what anon plays dominos on, scumbag:


11 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Here is slate on the creepy, sexually charged art in this “all ages friendly” creepshow of a restaurant:


12 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 1:40 pm

Should I go on, or will you be leaving now, never to return?

13 prior_test2 December 9, 2016 at 1:58 pm

‘if you think having pictures of children naked in your bedroom is normal’

Well, naked babies being breastfed in the bedroom, one of each child on facing walls.

The naked pictures of young children, in a pool, are in the hallway. It was a gorgeous summer day, by the way, as can happen in Germany.

Which is an odd country – nobody seems to think pictures of naked two year olds is worth commenting on, regardless of where they hung.

14 anon December 9, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I encourage everyone to follow those links. The first is to a fairly typical bronze sculpture. You would be hard pressed to pick it out in a museum as unusual.

The next two, as far as I can tell, are just about pizza.

And from Thomas’ own final link:

“In run-of-the-mill bathroom graffiti, they see secret sexual messages. In the lack of labeling for the gender-neutral bathrooms, haters with a political agenda see “secret rooms.” In Heavy Breathing, a band composed of decade-plus veterans of the D.C. music scene that traffics in stylized, abrasive, tongue-in-cheek electro-punk—only the truly humorless would not receive it as such—they see child-abusing satanists.”

Did he even read it?

15 Jan December 9, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Thomas deserves all of our pity.

16 Lanigram December 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Moderate moderation is a good thing. Do the hosts even read the comments in their own blog? Suddenly, an image from spiritus mundis troubles my sight, a horse in a parade with the head of a man, drops …

17 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 1:36 pm

James Alefantis bff and frequent Comet musical act, Heavy Breathing on Subway: ” we are all happy to be by a Subway shop Jared likes it here; crowd: ‘He likes little boys’; creepy person anon is defending: “we all have our preferences, hehehe”. You Huffpo, fakenews sucking, douche.


18 prognostication December 9, 2016 at 2:13 pm

I know the members of Heavy Breathing. If you can’t recognize gallows humor, I can’t help you.

19 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 2:54 pm

There’s a difference between illegal consensual sex with a 16 year old and raping a young child.

I think this goes over many people’s head in the Subway guy story.

20 Jan December 9, 2016 at 4:23 pm

I think it’s time “Thomas” was removed. This idiotic conspiracy theory stuff is not just annoying, it is probably going to get someone killed.

21 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 8:14 pm

If you’ll refer to my original post, I said not that there is a paedo ring but that the lesson is not be creepy. I posted multiple links to good sources of creepiness. That is all.

22 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 8:23 pm

The argument being made by Jan and Anon seems to be twofold: 1. There is no creepy art, no odd email language, and o inappropriate “all ages” entertainment at Comet. This is factually false as demonstrated by links to repudable sources. 2. We can’t acknowledge the facts because they are creepy and mentally unstable people may react negatively to the creepy facts.

What an utterly bizarre line of reasoning from people who buy in on the idea that Trump is an existential danger – apparently oblivious to the implicit advocacy for violence in “self-defense” against a would be Hitler.

23 prognostication December 9, 2016 at 10:10 pm

It’s just that you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. Comet is an all-ages, family-friendly pizza restaurant during the day and through the evening. Later at night, after the kitchen closes, there is also a bar that remains open. A few times a month, generally starting at 930 or 10 PM, there are indie rock or punk shows. Although these shows are “all ages” because that is symbolically important to a lot of people in the punk community, the late start times mean no one younger than high school ever shows up, and it’s very rare for anyone younger than college-aged to show up. The shows are not for children, and they do not take place at a time children would be the restaurant. Most of these shows also run up against DC curfew, which would be further disincentive for minors to show up unaccompanied.

24 Thomas December 9, 2016 at 10:34 pm

Look, I’m not making accusations of anything except being creepy. Anon lied about the existence of creepy things and I demonstrated him wrong. Jan wants me censored because I constantly call him out and this was a good opportunity for some concern trolling. I think that even you, a friend, would have to agree that HB is creepy. Nothing illegal about being creepy, but maybe we can be not lie about it like anon and not pretend MR readers will go murder people over creepiness, like Jan?

Anyway, take care. Heading out for the night and I’ve obviously upset some people.

25 Jan December 10, 2016 at 12:35 am

Thomas, again you are on a paranoid, delusional dance with yourself. I really hope you realize what you are doing and realize, like the gunman who showed at Comet, that you are mistaken and have been led astray before you and your friends get somebody killed.

26 Thomas December 10, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Sure Jan, and when there is an attempt on Trump-Hitlers life, I hope you blame yourself. Oh wait, there already was.

27 Jan December 9, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Chuck, did anyone else conduct this analysis? It’s good, it’s interesting.

28 rayward December 9, 2016 at 10:44 am

Of course, between 2006 and 2015, the socioeconomic status of lots of American families took a nosedive, which might explain part or most of the “improvement” (i.e., children who were from a family with higher socioeconomic status in 2006 found themselves in a lower socioeconomic status in 2015 even though in the same family). Moving middle class families to the lower class helps the data since middle class families usually take middle class aptitudes with them on the way down.

29 Strick December 9, 2016 at 10:49 am

“Canada, with more immigrant students than the United States, now top the charts” – As anyone living who’s dealt with Canadian immigration and their immigration standards knows, there’s a huge difference between their immigrant population and that of the United States.

As for “Generally speaking…”, given the various studies purporting to show that pre-schooling has little impact on long term school performance, I’d like to see substantiation of those assumptions. Truthfully, a truism from the half of my family that has or is teaching for a living is that parent involvement is the biggest single predictor of student success. Schools can only do so much if parents don’t take an active part in motivating students to learn, and too often they don’t in poorly performing school systems.

30 The Anti-Gnostic December 9, 2016 at 11:03 am

Life experience will tell you about pre-school: everybody’s a budding Einstein when it’s just toddlers laughing and bumping into each other while you teach them to count apple slices, match shapes, repeat the alphabet, etc. Then come words, spelling, sentences, multiplication and division. Fractions, decimals. A big gap starts to show up with grammar, and with novel-length reading assignments. Algebra is a big cut-off, as is calculus. I saw peers beginning to peel off around junior year, then HS graduation, then grad school.

“Parental involvement” just shifts the goalposts. Why are some parents more “involved?” What’s the demographic breakdown for “parental involvement?” Then you get to the issue of the mother’s pre-natal course, all the way back to conception…but not a day earlier!

Also, please be careful how far we go with this “parental involvement” thing. I don’t want my grandchildren tasked with having to pay reparations to another “Lost Generation” of children taken from their insufficiently involved biological parents with no appreciable gain in academic achievement.

31 Strick December 9, 2016 at 11:21 am

My wife teaches high school math in one of Dallas’s less affluent suburbs. The regular high school, the one students who can’t get into one of the magnet schools or who have behavior problems have to attend. When one of her students acts up and she has to call their parent, she can be sure of one thing. When the parent is a black single mom, the kid will show up and do their work for the rest of the semester. Fear God, but do what mom says or there’ll be consequences.

That’s what I mean by parental involvement. Call it something else if you prefer.

32 Cliff December 9, 2016 at 11:34 am

Who are the parents who are not involved?

33 tjamesjones December 9, 2016 at 12:04 pm

I imagine parental involvement is highly correlated. But I don’t buy Strick’s anecdote – “father absent” families massively underperform the average (again there is an element of correlation here). An involved parent is a lot more than taking a call from a teacher – an involved parent will be holding the teacher to account, moving the child from a poor school, etc, they will not be waiting for a phone call.

research on “father absent” families “children raised in a home where a father is present graduate from high school and attend college at much higher rates than children raised in a fatherless home”


34 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Algebra and calculus are only cutoffs if you’re going into things that require algebra and calculus. Similarly, there are many opportunities for people with bad grammar but high math skills. Etc.

35 dearieme December 9, 2016 at 12:09 pm

“there’s a huge difference between their immigrant population and that of the United States”: good Lord, are you suggesting that immigrants aren’t an amorphous mass of interchangeable people? Racist! Fascist! Neo-nazi! Trumpster!

36 Thor December 9, 2016 at 2:32 pm

Excuse me, but that’s “Trumpeter” to you, pal.

37 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Well. Maybe fascist and Nazi DO apply.

It depends where you go with it.

38 Jan December 9, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Well, nobody said that except Dearie, again. The straw man liberals here outnumber actual liberals 10:1. Ha.

39 Anonopotato December 10, 2016 at 12:20 am

Jan does point to an obvious inconsistency. Canada has a skill based immigration system. In a country run by liberals.

However, as always, Jan is completely wrong. Please find me the liberal consensus for skill based immigration. If the US followed Canada’s immigration policy Jan would be out on the streets protesting racism.

The difference, of course, is political. Democrats think with enough hispanic immigrants they can make the new Reich rein for a thousand years based on demographics. They’re probably wrong.

The Hispanic immigrants I know work their asses off and are furious that their taxes go to welfare. However, they’re all legal. So democrats actually need a specific system where a large illegal population exists, so they can defend it, and reap the cultural votes. But legal hispanic immigrants are furious at their tax rates. Their votes are cultural.


40 Jan December 10, 2016 at 12:38 am

Please tell me again what I would be doing. You might get it right one of these times.

In fact, I would completely support a policy like Canada’s. So, I guess, take that?

41 Chip December 9, 2016 at 4:43 pm

1) Canada is slipping steadily down the PISA rankings, and provinces that have more fully embraced curricula framed around social engineering are falling fastest.

2) immigrants in Canada lag residents in income for decades after their arrival. Because of heavy state direction over healthcare, they are a net cost of $22 billion a year. While the country’s immigration policy is better than the USA it’s far from the skills-based utopia believe believe it to be.

42 Jan December 10, 2016 at 12:41 am

What is a social engineering curriculum? Given the number of Asian immigrants in Canada and Asians’ natural math skills, I’m sure they are acing those “engineering” classes.

43 Rick Zhang December 10, 2016 at 3:16 am

I’m one of these skill based Canadian immigrants. Among my circle of friends, more than half of the engineers trained by UofT or Waterloo with for Wall Street or in silicon valley.

44 Jan December 10, 2016 at 7:03 am

Ugh. We really wanted Asian immigrants trained at places like IIT and Tsinghua. Waterloo is merely average.

45 Eric December 9, 2016 at 10:55 am

First, where is skepticism of econometrics on such a difficult socio-economic problem as education?

Second, generally speaking, her observations of what the “smartest countries” tended to do is nothing more than framing or restating existing job functions, and, worst of all, they imply more centralized government direction.

For example, do we really need more “consistent standards across all classrooms” which requires MORE Washington involvement?

Arnold Kling would like “having teachers and school administrators accountable to people who can observe their performance close up,” and not defining “‘accountability’ for schools as accountability to Washington.”

46 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:09 am

From an engineering perspective, why is it so hard to believe iterative improvement is (local) technique and not (gross) economics?

Measure, introduce variations, measure, and improve.

47 Jeff R. December 9, 2016 at 11:28 am

Where and when does the ‘improve’ part happen?

48 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:33 am

In the referenced article?

49 Jeff R. December 9, 2016 at 11:49 am

The latest (PISA) results, released Tuesday morning, reveal the United States to be treading water in the middle of the pool. In math, American teenagers performed slightly worse than they usually do on the PISA — below average for the developed world, which means they scored worse than nearly three dozen countries.

50 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:57 am

The improvement was in delivering to poorer students:

Finally, it was time for the results: The analysts looked at the country names to see how their predictions held up. It was, by statistician standards, a huge thrill. The United States had not raised its average scores, but on measures of equity, it had improved. One in every three disadvantaged American teenagers beat the odds in science, achieving results in the top quarter of students from similar backgrounds worldwide.

This is a major accomplishment, despite America’s lackluster performance over all. In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world. No other country showed as much progress on this metric. (By contrast, socioeconomic background explained 20 percent of score differences in France — and only 8 percent in Estonia.)

You think they did that improvement without process?

51 Jeff R. December 9, 2016 at 12:18 pm

I think that represents an ephemeral and pretty unremarkable achievement (1/3 of “disadvantaged teens” in one of the richest country in the world–so a few hundred students, I guess– managed to score above expecations in one subject? Knock me over with a feather!) and whatever the process that went into it was, it will likely not scale or replicate.

Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

52 anon December 9, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Well, having read a bit on, and even practiced a bit of, continuous process improvement, I think it is a solid foundation.

As I say above, measure, introduce variations, measure, and improve. If these schools changed and improved, and others changed and regressed, you have data to build on.

You try more of what worked, and less of what did not. Optimization requires iteration.

53 Jeff R. December 9, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Sure, guy. When have buzzwords and sloganeering ever failed to accomplish real world objectives?

54 Jason Bayz December 9, 2016 at 1:16 pm

“You think they did that improvement without process?”

Well, if that “improvement in delivering to poorer students” occurred due to a changing process, evidently that same process must have lowered scores for the richer students, as the overall scores did not improve. Buzzwords let you spin failure into success.

55 anon December 9, 2016 at 3:08 pm

That anti-improvement probably should be investigated.

The article mentions some rich school technologies being less effective than hoped.

56 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:38 am
57 Thor December 9, 2016 at 2:36 pm

“Well, having read a bit on, and even practiced a bit of, continuous process improvement”…

When are we, your friends and foes in the blogosphere, going to see the results of this miraculous process of anon-improvement?

58 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:05 pm

Very soft stuff, like regular interactions with students and sort of refining processes that seem to work – not at all using the sort of alpha/beta testing used in the tech world.

If you peer to closely I might just clam up, stop trying and say GTFO. Teachers are not an app to be optimized. They are people.

So … from that position, let’s talk about evaluation and continuous improvement. Hint: if you haven’t been in MY classroom, odds are you won’t have anything of use for me or my classroom.

59 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Children being people too and all. It’s somehow relevant. They aren’t apps to be optimized either. Speaking as a teacher, and not an economist, of course …

60 anon December 9, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Sadly anti-intellectualism and partisanship are strong.

People are even willing to oppose improving teaching, because “the other side” suggested it.

61 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:12 am

To your “Washington” tilt, first I would say there isn’t much there right now. Districts make most choices close to home. What Washington did, and which is important, is get that standardized testing out there, to make “for the children” less an empty slogan and more a measurable metric.

62 DNC December 9, 2016 at 12:02 pm

If standardized testing shows that a teacher isn’t doing a good job then we need to stop standardized testing. Teacher salaries matter.

63 anon December 9, 2016 at 12:08 pm

That is the sad thing, people with all kinds of axes to grind, or incomes to protect, want the tests removed or reduced.

Maybe to keep the tests, everyone should think of who on “the other side” wants no tests.

64 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:11 pm

How does taking days or weeks out of the year to force children to take standardized tests, which then forces teachers to “teach to the test” for much of the year, create any value for the children in terms of the educational services available for them?

Some means of tapping the peer review process in a way that teachers can more easily diffuse constructive criticism to their peers in a way that leads to action in cases of incompetence would be good.

Also, things like firing teachers who cannot get above 75% on tests administered to their students in their subject and grade level might be pretty reasonable. But even then, you don’t actually have to know the stuff until the day you teach it …

65 anon December 9, 2016 at 4:07 pm

Do you oppose the SAT too? Should it be canceled and college entrance judged by grade point average alone?

Because it is really the same question, whether teachers can uniquely judge student competence or whether it can be objectively measured.

66 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Yes, I do also oppose the SAT.

I went through a selection process where universities were aware of systematic differences in qualities coming form universities across the province, and are able to inform themselves about this in determining the relevance of grades presented as a part of applications.

So grades, not standardized test scores, are used for admission. There are also motivation letters, reference letters, space to discuss extra-curricular interests and working life as a student, so that people who work 20 hours a week and participated in 3 clubs at a time can compete with those who study for hours every evening after school.

I don’t have any problem with this approach. Although it wouldn’t work in a corrupt country.

67 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Outcomes that are possible with this mode of assessing incoming students include ones where someone who only barely meets the minimum GPA requirements to enter a (world class) program can be the same person who wins the largest entrance scholarship. Because obviously it’s hard to have a high GPA when you work 20 hours a week and participate in lots of clubs.

68 anon December 9, 2016 at 5:08 pm

If you do not measure the measurable, you can’t Plan, Do, Study, Act


69 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 11:55 pm

Ontario has standardized tests. They just don’t eat up as much time as some other places and are not used as a means of filtering students. It is to evaluate the system at various levels, down to the school level.

70 TMC December 9, 2016 at 4:40 pm

There is no such thing as “teach to the test”.

The test is math, english, history ect. They are SUPPOSED to be teaching these things already.

71 Anonopotato December 10, 2016 at 12:28 am

Alright people, we can officially ignore Nathan. He says we shouldn’t use the SAT. By the way, Ibanks and consulting firms use the SAT and GMAT over grades. Selling intelligence and competence is their entire business strategy. But surely Nate knows better, since he’s started a business and made billions.

In the real world, people have poor grades because bullshit high schools weight homework and classroom participation as 90% of the grade. Run high schools like a real top university: the only grades that should matter are test scores. We have thousands of men who score 5 on the Calc AP and get a B- in the class since they didn’t do their diorama. Grow the fuck up.

72 subdee December 13, 2016 at 7:32 pm

there’s a reason only top universities use that model, and lower-tier schools DO factor participation and attendance into grades…. the students have to work in a self-directed way towards long-term goals, and they have to moderate their own behavior day in day out. I can tell you that a lot of high school students (teenagers) aren’t there yet. Unless you want all behavior management to be based on exclusionary discipline, grades are the incentive structure we use to reward behavior that leads to an environment in which learning can take place.

73 Boonton December 9, 2016 at 12:56 pm

“For example, do we really need more “consistent standards across all classrooms” which requires MORE Washington involvement? ”

Requires Washington involvement? So what if it does but does it really require it? Web browsers are pretty consistent yet Washington never mandated or set any standards for them.

As for do we really need it….well what are we trying to get? If education is about some desired output then yea probably the optimal input is going to be standardized. Do you think McDonalds or Ford Motor works well by letting each place do their own recipes or modify the cars dramatically?

If education is about consumption, a type of lifestyle entitlement then perhaps standardization is not needed. We could have as many ‘homebrews’ as we want to drink during the games while we buy standardized milk for the kids at the supermarket.

74 Jeff R. December 9, 2016 at 11:06 am

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

Yes, you just can’t overstate the importance and effectiveness of programs like Head Start.

75 Cliff December 9, 2016 at 11:35 am


76 Jeff R. December 9, 2016 at 11:45 am

Of the most sardonic kind.

77 DNC December 9, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Rich people can pay the National Education Association more money and feel better about it, and rich people tend to be smart. We should pay the National Education Association federal funds to make localities with poor test scores smart. Trust me I scored a 155 on my LSAT, which makes me a black female Albert Einstein.

78 Boonton December 9, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Guy went to the gym and worked out 3 times a week for a year. He got in really good shape. Then we can cancelled his gym membership.

12 years later we revisited him and discovered he was no longer in shape.

Clearly this proves exercise has nothing to do with being in shape. Not that remaining in shape is a continuous effort that will dissipate and eventually disappear over time if not maintained.

79 Jeff R. December 9, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Pretty lousy analogy.

80 Daniel Weber December 9, 2016 at 2:34 pm

You say it’s very clear now, but Head Start was sold as a short-term intensive program with lasting results. Now we are told that we apparently need a program 15x as big. Trust us this time, we promise it will work. And if it doesn’t we’ll demand more money.

81 Boonton December 9, 2016 at 4:12 pm

Lasting results meaning what? That you could accomplish 12 years of education by just getting year 0-1 real good? Or that what happens after kindergarten/first grade shouldn’t matter?

It doesn’t follow to me that you need 12 years of Head Start but the program should be measured on its immediate effects first and decreasing the weight of later effects.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fitness today depends a lot more on what he has been doing with is body over the last 3 years than what he did with his body back when he was Mr. Olympia back in 1970.

If you demand a solution that takes a year or two today and leaves you ‘set’ for decades since, I’ll ask you where else do you demand such quality from? How about, for example, a new car? Most people who drive out of the showroom don’t expect to keep their car over a decade and expect it to be close to junk after a decade. iPhone? Computer? Oven? How about college? I suspect most people trying to evaluate colleges look at earnings for the first five or so years after college, as you start going out over decades the impact of college itself becomes less and the choices the person makes along the way more.

82 Daniel Weber December 9, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Again, the whole promise of Head Start was that an intensive but short-term intervention would make the underperforming kids ready for school. Once they hit kindergarten our crack school system that spends over $10,000 per child per year would handle it from there.

You spend paragraphs saying that the original promise was stupid. Okay. Tell

83 Daniel Weber December 9, 2016 at 4:36 pm

(extra word at the end there)

84 Boonton December 9, 2016 at 7:33 pm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_Start_(program) seems to indicate the program works pretty well. The program is ‘intense’ in the sense that they provide food and extra services to help children and parents stick with school. Since the main targets are kids from around 3-5 I’m unclear what people here would think a reasonable metric of success would look like? Do you think you could provide 24 months of super intense parenting and then shift into glide mode to let your kids coast from 5 yr old to adulthood? IMO if the program boosted enrollment, attendance, and outcomes in the elementary grades with the impact then fading to nearly undetectable after, that would be pretty positive. I doubt there’s any reliable thing you can do with a 5yr old that would reliably make him or her successful in high school and beyond.

85 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 11:29 am

Per the new PISA results, US reading and science scores are good-to-exceptional as compared to other countries when controlled for race (Hispanics Americans slightly underperform vs the more developed LATAM countries).

Our math, on the other hand, is abysmal. American Whites and Asians had reading and science scores on the level of Finland, but math scores on the level of the Czech Republic

86 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:33 am

We “control” for race, but NOBODY CALL US RACISTS!!!

87 Cliff December 9, 2016 at 11:36 am

Why would controlling for ethnicity or country of origin make you racist?

88 anon December 9, 2016 at 11:40 am

A prize for the first moved goalposts, from “race” to “ethnicity or country of origin”.

(But of course fuzzy thinking is a foundation of racism, to literally not know that you are sliding from one categorization to another as you hone your bias.)

89 DNC December 9, 2016 at 12:06 pm

All racial, sexual, and age demographics score equally on all tests, and if you disagree you are deplorable.

90 tjamesjones December 9, 2016 at 12:09 pm

“literally”, eh, hmmm. I think he moved the goalposts because you called DD0000 a racist (not “literally”, but “by implication”). If what DD0000 said is true, it’s remarkable.

91 anon December 9, 2016 at 12:14 pm

One of those is not like the others.

“Racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out ”


Perhaps if you can read and understand that article it will improve your PISA score.

92 anon December 9, 2016 at 12:16 pm

tjamesjones, if the science is indeed that “racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out” who would still be using it to “control” results, if not racists?

93 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 12:43 pm

Funny that race and ethnicity are used as tools of categorization with virtually no controversy in physiology and various fields of medicine? And that genomics research shows, indisputably that there are definitively clusters of ethnic groups that vary significantly in a host of characteristics.

Do you ever think that it could be even slightly possible that those pushing for the elimination of racial categories may have political motivations? Or are scientists a special kind of human that exhibits no bias whatsoever.

You’re probably too young to remember, but 25 years ago it was controversial to even claim that intelligence was heritable *at all*. Then the mountain of evidence came along and today, even the most ardent holdouts grudgingly agree that there is some heritable component.

Is it too far fetched to think this is the same thing that’s going on with race?

94 anon December 9, 2016 at 12:52 pm

I guess you didn’t read the article, because it talks about that. At this point “race” is used as a first pass filter in medicine, but only with the recognition that it is subject to error.

95 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Ok: how about this. Using our current definition of “race” (whether it is completely accurate in the genetic sense or not) we can see that there are marked physiological differences between races. Things such as height, body mass, hormones, etc show clear, statistically significant, differences when looking at different groups which we call “races”. Why would intelligence be the single characteristic that does not follow this pattern, and is exactly equal among all groups of people? The statistical probability of this would be insanely low.

Your argument isn’t only that race doesn’t match up perfectly with genetic makeup (which, OK, may not be perfect but it isn’t as bad as you say), but that even within these groups that you think we have artificially designated as different races, there is no (ZERO) variability in intelligence. This, despite the fact that these racial groups see differences in nearly *every other physiological characteristic*.

Do you not see how insane that sounds?

BTW – my background is of an ethnicity of people that, on average, have relatively lower IQ than Europeans and East Asians. That doesn’t mean I put my fingers in my ears and ignore reality and hope it goes away.

96 chuck martel December 9, 2016 at 2:05 pm

“Your argument isn’t only that race doesn’t match up perfectly with genetic makeup (which, OK, may not be perfect but it isn’t as bad as you say), but that even within these groups that you think we have artificially designated as different races, there is no (ZERO) variability in intelligence. This, despite the fact that these racial groups see differences in nearly *every other physiological characteristic*. ”

Race is a classification but those being classified are individuals. Ecuadorans seem to be of a shorter average height than Americans. But it can’t be predicted if an individual Ecuadoran is shorter or taller than an individual American. Oddly, the commentariat of MR seems obsessed with amplifying the dubious classification of race to include intelligence. Every human on earth is an individual with a unique genetic makeup and life experience. Using a classification system to assess their likely intelligence is simply bullshit. Of course some individuals are more intelligent in some ways than others. So what? It appears that, at least here, there’s a sideways slide past overt racism to delineating a class of the supposedly less-gifted intellectually and putting them in an inferior position to the intelligent elite. This has the qualities of racism by another standard.

97 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 2:52 pm

So Chuck, your argument is that we shouldn’t consider patterns or consider scientific hypotheses because some bad people may use it to discriminate? Should we also not notice that the Dutch are generally taller than the Japanese? Or that men are generally stronger than women?

What about if our ignorance has actual costs? Such as governments spending millions of dollars trying to decipher why certain countries have better test results than others while refusing to take into account the fact that human capital may play a role? Is that fine?

The “lets not talk about it, even if it’s true, because it might lead to bad things” argument is the most illiberal of all the typical progressive stances.

98 anon December 9, 2016 at 3:16 pm

We should test and teach the individual, of course. Help each reach his or her potential, and don’t even look back at skin color.

Some will be shop assistants and some will be rocket scientists, there is room, and need, for all kinds.

99 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Anon: I agree completely, I’m all for a Singaporean-style pure meritocracy model. What I don’t like is publications saying: “see, our number is lower than the number of other countries. lets just inefficiently plow more and more money into it to try and fix it”.

Misdiagnosing the problem will lead to wasteful proposed solutions.

Again, I’m a successful/intelligent individual from an ethnic group with relatively low IQ. I’m the last person to argue that we should cast people away based on the average of the group they belong to. That being said, I also understand that real life isn’t an idealized fairy tale where everyone is equal and we all sing kumbaya.

100 chuck martel December 9, 2016 at 5:13 pm

What real scientific hypothesis enables the prediction of an individual’s intelligence on the basis of race or any other physical factor? Phrenology was once accepted by portions of the “scientific” community. We don’t hear much about it anymore. You’re completely free to rank individuals by intelligence according to their supposed race but don’t expect rational people to go along with it. There’s also no shortage of stupid white people. Maybe they need somebody to whom to feel superior.

101 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Chuck, no one is saying what you’re claiming that they are saying.

One side says: “hey, these scores might not be a great like-to-like comparison as countries are made up of different ethnic groups that can’t be compared given their somewhat different average intellectual capacity”

The other side says: “you racists! You just want to be able to judge each individual based on your bigoted beliefs about their average group!”

I’m fairly certain those belonging to the former group would be *more* in favor of Singaporean-style individual meritocratic testing than those in the latter group. Especially because those in the latter group tend to favor massive redistribution on the basis of closing the achievement gap in the ethnic groups that they say supposedly don’t exist.

It’s probably not wise to throw infinite money at something that’s literally impossible.

102 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 2:27 pm

If Hispanic Americans are performing worse than developed LATAM countries, it’s almost like the Hispanics are not the problem.

Also, I promise, it’s harder to write a test in your second language. Math results are famously related to reading comprehension, because it’s actually not that easy to extract the key details to carry out the calculations required to get the right answer.

103 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 2:53 pm

Ah so every other fact that fits the pattern is just a coincidence while this slight outlier proves that everything else is a sham. Got it.

104 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Troll Me:

You dodged my offer for a long-term bet in the last thread, so I’ll bring it up again. Try to devise a bet that would prove your argument that all groups of people (our current categorization of “races”) have identical potential intellectual capacity.

You dismissed all the ones I thought of, so I’m letting you create it. Shouldn’t be difficult, right?

As Caplan says, a bet is a tax on bullshit, and I’m calling you out on yours

105 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:19 pm

First, we need a completely dictatorial communist system with a 100% inheritance tax and where all interactions between children, parents and other members of society are strictly regulated as to be identical for all individuals.

Having transformed each individual into a comparable object of study, we can then talk.

So, my hope is that most people would be willing to die to prevent the conditions that would make it possible to answer the question with sicentific rigour.

In the meantime, there are numerous very sensible and easy to understand historical and social explanations which can be expected to have an effect in the direction of what is observed.

I would be surprised if, in 200 or 2000 years time, after functions of all genes are known, that the “natural abilities” if identifiably different groups are not strictly identical on average. It might be 0.1% better for some things and 0.1% worse on others.

Most especially, I do not think it is a useful allocation of cognitive resources and so have no interest in whatever conditions might lead to proving that people with melanin deficiency are 0.1% smarter or dumber on average at some particular type of question, after going through whatever draconian control mechanisms would be required.

As an alternative and much simpler solution, i suggest comparing countries where there isn’t much racism with countries where there is a lot of racism. Funny thing … minorities always do poorly among racists! And you’re the genius who thinks that’s not relevant!

106 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Great, so what’s a country with no / little racism? Sweden? Let’s check out the PISA scores by race there then?

Looks like from the data I see, ethnic Swedes outperform their fellow countrymen by ~55 points. Oops!

107 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Yeah, let’s test people in their second language after growing up in a country with an inferior education system. And then use the test results to evaluate their “genetic intelligence”.

In Canada, second generation immigrants tend to outperform the average. This is probably because they work harder than others, but do not have the disadvantage of being tested in their second language.

Of course, we’re evaluating from a pool of people who cross oceans for the purpose of accessing economic opportunity, freedom and other stuff, so maybe the sample is a little biased in terms of the effort levels that would be accompany such situations.

108 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Troll Me: are you serious? Canada’s immigrant makeup is a tad different than that of the US…

I can’t tell if, at this point, you’re actually trolling per your name or you are the greatest mental gymnast in the world

109 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Funny thing, that educated people are more likely to push their kids to try in school than uneducated people.

Ever hear the story about the lawyer father who taught his son how to weld and fix cars? Me neither.

110 Doug December 9, 2016 at 2:51 pm

I’m willing to bet that if you break out race in other countries, the test score distributions are almost identical. I.e. blacks in the UK probably do equal or worse than blacks in the US. Muslims in France probably do equal or worse than Hispanics in the US. Chinese-Canada probably do about equal to Chinese-Americans. The issue isn’t that the United States uniquely lets down its minorities, it’s that it has significantly higher proportion of minorities to let down.

Now it doesn’t matter what you attribute minority failing to. You could believe that it’s genetic, cultural or structural. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s not a specifically American problem. It’s a problem across the entire Western World. In nearly every country the ordering of racial achievement is nearly identical. Jews, East Asians, high-caste South Asians, and Igbos at the top. Europeans, non-Muslim Arabs, Persians, Southeast Asians, and Tutsis in the middle. Aboriginal Americans/Mestizos, Muslim Arabs, Bantu Africans, low-caste South Asians, and Polynesians at the bottom. Finally Melanesians, Austro-Aborigines, Pygmies, and Khoisan as basically unable to function in industrial civilization.

Again who knows what the underlying cause is, but the relative ordering is nearly preserved in every country in the entire world. The only variance is due to the relative frequency of these populations.

111 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 2:56 pm

This is a great post. All the publications that cry about the substandard state of US schools while not taking into account demographics are being incredibly dishonest.

But I’ll push back on the idea that it “doesn’t matter” what the root cause is. It definitely matters if it is a driver of public policy and where tax dollars are being spent. If we consistently spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to achieve a goal that is literally impossible, we are unfairly wasting taxpayer money.

112 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:21 pm

it’s almost like there’s a relationship between average hours of daily study and outcomes.

Theory: time spent learning academic things is positively related to the amount of academic stuff you know and the types of academic questions you can answer.

113 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Except there isn’t (at least not in the causal way you think). Finnish schools are famously lax and do not distribute much homework. South Korean schools, on the other hand, are on the opposite side of the spectrum. Both perform extremely well. Wonder why that is… Hmmmm

Theory: intelligence between different human groups has the same distribution as other characteristics do between human groups (hint: not 0.1% as you laughably suggested above). But that can’t be right? Intelligence has to be the one single item that breaks all the other patterns we see in the world because… Well, just because

114 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Have you ever taken a math test that you studied for 30 minutes a day during that module? Do you remember how this compares to tests taken when you missed several classes and did not study for even one minute?

Theory: studying is not a complete waste of time.

Cool thing about Finland. I think most countries will not go that way because it’s too free … not enough “sit down, shut up and do your job” kind of training involved in the Finnish approach. Whatever’s working well there, I hope at least some of it can be copied.

115 albatross December 9, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Different racial groups get extremely different average scores on most standardized tests (and on IQ tests). That means it makes a lot of sense to control for race in evaluating the results. Otherwise, you can’t figure out whether declining scores reflects declining quality of education or a changing racial mix in your schools.

116 anon December 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm

The conclusion of the Sci Am paper says that race still has a role in sociology. One reason that might be true is that as long as people think “race” is meaningful, they will apply it, in a circular fashion.

Now, I think you are wrong about “control” for a couple reasons. First, if we are talking about national competitiveness, our ability is the score, not a the score with a handicap. Second, the article talks about less advantaged students, which is where I think you really want to go.

117 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm

A developed country that with a wide mix of ethnic backgrounds will never be able to compete with one that is 75%+ East Asian. We can gnash our teeth and gripe about “lackluster schools” all we want.

Also: Asian Americans and white Americans in the lowest socioeconomic bracket outscore black Americans in the highest socioeconomic bracket. Ever stop to think that you may have your causality backwards?

118 anon December 9, 2016 at 4:12 pm

If Scientific American says that racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out, I would be foolish to use them as any kind of “weak proxy” for academic potential.

119 albatross December 9, 2016 at 5:45 pm

If you want to talk about grades and standardized test scores, race is enormously relevant. (For example, here is data on SAT scores by race over the years.)

We know that different racial groups have different average scores on standardized tests–this has been happening for decades, and there’s tons of data on it, just a Google search away. What that means is that if I want to compare two teachers’ or schools’ performance, I’d better take the racial mix of their students (and maybe other stuff, like parental education and language spoken at home) into account. If I ignore that stuff, I will come to silly conclusions. (Most likely, I’ll come to the conclusion that the school whose student body is mostly upper-class Asians has amazing genius teachers, while the one whose student body is mostly poor blacks has terrible teachers.)

The same is true for looking at national scores.

120 anon December 9, 2016 at 7:04 pm

I can certainly see a difference between individual test results, and a sociological study that looks a self-identified group performance.

The second can be self-referential without being scientifically grounded.

Slicing by zip code is probably better grounded and more useful. You don’t mistake a son of a surgeon for a disadvantaged youth. You don’t exclude disadvantaged pockets of privileged groups.

Again, we should just take Sci Am advice.

121 anon December 9, 2016 at 7:31 pm

I kind of hear some of you saying “we can ignore science and keep looking at ‘race’.”

Yes, you can keep looking at race, keep looking at race, keep looking at race.

But why? It’s not like it is tried and true. It is incredibly fraught. And of course you have to do that “ignore science” thing, to choose a “weak proxy.”

I really don’t see the point, unless you are irrationally attached to the framework.

122 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 8:17 pm

Anon: why keep looking at race? Maybe because we have major, widely-read, influential publications telling us that US schools are a dismal failure when, after accounting for this country’s ethnic composition, they are not at all.

These things have real policy implications. I believe it was the UK government foolishly wasting millions of taxpayer money investigating why Vietnamese children were outscoring what would be implied from their GDP/capita. (Not to mention the entire premise of affirmative action is built on this lie).

Anyway, it’s funny how the conversation has shifted from “there’s no way ethnic groups have any variation in intelligence, you racist!” to “why are we even talking about this. It doesn’t even matter. Just stop talking about it!”

I mentioned this before, but I consider myself a “liberal”, or at least left of center, but the far-left ideology that says “certain truths are best left unspoken if they may hurt others” makes my blood boil

123 albatross December 9, 2016 at 10:20 pm

One article in SciAm isn’t what Science says, it’s just what the authors of one article in a popular science magazine say. They may be right or wrong, but they’re not some kind of ultimate authority handing down the word from on high. Indeed, a lot of the whole point of science is that there isn’t someone handing down the unquestionable truth from on high–instead, there are a whole bunch of people talking and disagreeing and arguing and trying to find ways to check their ideas against reality.

124 anon December 10, 2016 at 9:48 am

Feel free to cite a Sci Am or similar source that differs.

I can cite more in the same vein.


125 anon December 10, 2016 at 9:50 am

BTW, I didn’t hear any other answer than “we look at race because we always looked at race.”

That is called being stuck

.. unable to process the new genetic data.

126 Art Deco December 9, 2016 at 11:40 am

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective

You put more of your talented people in elementary and secondary teaching, you put fewer of them into other endeavours. Where is the optimum?

(Per Thos. Sowell, the teachers’ colleges are a source of deadweight loss, so we might start by reducing them to rubble via aerial bombardment).

127 gab December 9, 2016 at 11:52 am

Having had Dr. Sowell for Econ, I can attest to his being an expert on poor teaching.

128 albatross December 9, 2016 at 3:40 pm

Education realist claims more-or-less the opposite–that testing requirements for teachers means that at least at the high school level, most teachers are pretty bright and know the material they’re teaching.

129 prior_test2 December 9, 2016 at 11:52 am

‘For the United States, math is still clearly the weakest subject, in fact at all income levels.’

To quote an authority on the subject, ‘Math class is tough’ – Barbie

130 rayward December 9, 2016 at 11:55 am

One of the advantages of growing up in America when I did was the competition. And that applied in school, in sports, and in the job market. My sister’s husband was voted the best high school football player in his state in his senior year by the sports writers; he got a full scholarship at the flagship state university as a result. I actually made my high school basketball team even though I was short and not very fast. And I attended the flagship state university in my state. Unfortunately for people like me and my sister’s husband, the competition today isn’t what it used to be. No, today the competition is much stiffer. Black people, brown people, yellow people, women of all colors, have greatly increased the competition for people like us. Many of the people like us don’t like the stiffer competition, and prefer to return to the competition that prevailed in our day. Maybe some of the smart young folks in Silicon Valley will invent a time machine.

131 Dan Hanson December 9, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Funny that when talking about Canada’s education system no one mentions a key difference: In Canada (at least in the jurisdictions I am familiar with) a parent can send their kid to just about any school in the public system they choose. Here in Edmonton, each neightborhood has a designated school, but the only thing you lose if you send your child out of the zone is free busing. Other than that, you can send your kid to any public school in the city that has an opening.

Our local school had pretty bad ratings, so we sent our child to one halfway across the city that met his needs better. And when schools go bad here, parents just move their kids to another one. And if enough parents do that, the school closes. We have closed several inner city schools for that reason in the past few years.

I think this one simple reform would go a long way towards getting rid of the worst schools and the worst teachers in the U.S.

Where our schools are going wrong now is that political correctness and social justice topics are increasingly taking time away from core subjects like Math. My son is in first year honors mathematics at university, and he says that the first semester was slow and boring because the professors spent a lot of time teaching things the students should have learned in high school. And this is in the honors program that required a 3.9 GPA and an A in grade 12 matriculation math to get in.

132 other derek December 9, 2016 at 12:59 pm

He can’t just test out of that class? That’s really weird, but, eh, Canada.

133 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Most often you can’t just pick any school. But most individual schools have one or two or more specializations which allow students to justify picking them.

For example, one highschool might have specialist courses in automative technologies, while another offers specialist courses in language and music. So, you can’t just go to any school, but you can say “my son wants to go to school X because he wants to take the specialist courses in automative technologies” … which is kind of the same but tnot really.

Similar strategies are increasingly applied in health systems as well, under the assumption that it will achieve both cost savings and higher quality.

134 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:27 pm

A common shortcut to this is just to opt into French immersion.

The assumption is that quality of competition (for whatever reasons) is generally better among those who put their children into a second language learning environment.

135 Chip December 9, 2016 at 4:50 pm

In BC, the enrolment at private school schools is climbing every year while public schools are being closed everywhere due to fewer students.

Declining academic standards and teachers strikes are the reason. It also helps that the government grants private schools a stipend that’s 50% of what they give a public school per student. And it’s driving the teachers union nuts.

136 Horhe December 9, 2016 at 1:09 pm

Generally speaking, the smartest countries are those whose inhabitants, whether a single ethnicity or a mix of ethnicities, come from groups which have an IQ distribution pattern that would lead people to conclude that the average Joe is decently smart and that there is an adequate smart fraction of the population, based on the size of the standard deviation. Other aspects which are influenced by genetics and heritability (though not completely) are temperament, time preferences wtc. Once you have the genetic potential to work with, then you notice that the smartest countries have also developed appropriate cultural values that emphasize education, success, personal improvement, high social prestige for the right occupational groups. The smartest countries have also spent considerable effort ensuring that essential micronutrients are available for every child and pregnant woman, like iodine, while also encouraging harmonious development of children which eventually leads to them accessing as much of their potential as possible.

These people whom Tyler quotes wear their agenda on their sleeves.

137 GoneWithTheWind December 9, 2016 at 1:16 pm

There is no doubt we can and should improve our schools. However it is useful to understand that when most countries test their students in math and science they don’t include their poorest students. AND regardless of the schools a country has if they have a nice homogenized population like Japan and China and a society where parents place a premium on making sure their children do well in school the results will be better. I would assume that if we sent the entire school aged population of New Orleans or Baltimore or St. Louis to Japan to be educated that Japan would suddenly see a decrease in their average test scores in science and math while simultaneously see an increase in violent crimes.

If you really want to see an improvement in U.S. test scores then hold the parents responsible and get the parents to put education first.

138 chuck martel December 9, 2016 at 5:23 pm

Why should “we”, whoever that is, care about school improvement? Wouldn’t it be to the advantage of a dedicated individual student if all of his classmates were poor students? Then he’d get better grades, a better job and make more money and maybe have a nicer apartment in heaven. And what does it matter if Japanese students score higher than students in Estonia on math tests? Is there going to be some televised contest with a prize?

How would you hold the parents responsible? Put a lock on their TV until they’re through helping the kid with his homework?

139 GoneWithTheWind December 9, 2016 at 7:44 pm

Why should we care? Because that is the agreement made between government and taxpayers, i.e. that they would spend the money wisely on good schools, good teachers and produce good students/graduates. We as taxpayers should hold the government to it.

“How would you hold the parents responsible?” A good question and not easy to answer. The ideal way would be parenting classes. A return to when we had marriage and then children rather than children and no marriage. Less incentives to have children to collect welfare and more effort to hold parents responsible for taking care of their children and making sure the children attend classes and are prepared for classes. There is much that could be done. We need to do it. A lot of children are being short changed and it isn’t all the schools or the governments fault. It isn’t fair to have an 18 year old graduate high school who can barely read and write and barely speaks normal English. We better turn this around, the kids deserve better.

140 chuck martel December 9, 2016 at 11:47 pm

I don’t care about how your kids or the kids down the street do in school. I care about how my kids do. Life, for perch, pigeons and polar bears is a competitive experience and so it is for humans, even though they’re social animals. Life, like many college courses, is graded on a curve. If your kids can’t cut the mustard, too bad. My kid will end up as their boss, if they’re normal enough to follow instructions. Confiscating my money to do a lousy job teaching your unmotivated kids is an inescapable outrage, like many other aspects of modern life.

141 GoneWithTheWind December 10, 2016 at 11:36 am

Well you are short-sighted. There is a chance that your kids will be robbed, raped or killed by those kids down the street that you don’t care about. Because we don’t take steps to educate all kids and make sure there are opportunities for all kids then some kids will turn to crime as a way of life. You and your family will be at risk. But even if you lived in an ivory tower or where a rich socialite who jetted to Europe to avoid the hoi polloi you should care because it is the right thing.

I am opposed to confiscating your money or my money but make no mistake taxes for schools will not go away. So since it is here to stay it is our duty to make sure the government uses it to make schools better and not to make teachers unions richer and more powerful.

142 Seth December 9, 2016 at 1:55 pm

The article states overall science results stayed the same. It also seems to say (though I’m not 100% confident this is the correct interpretation) that disadvantaged kids did better in science. That is good. But, if overall results stayed the same, then that means ‘advantaged’ kids did worse on science? That’s not so good.

This article looks like more of the usual to me: stylized data to fit a predefined narrative without giving enough information readers to draw their own conclusions.

143 Massimo Heitor December 9, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Math is bizarre in that it is used as the definitive measure of intelligence and education, but has near-zero relevance to day to day work tasks in almost every job.

A math degree is valuable and conveys social status + privilege, but the actual skill is useless. These are big red flags.

I’d like to see Tyler Cowen or Scott Alexander tackle this subject directly.

The OP quote “the smartest countries tend to be those that…” seems like a wildly circular argument. Smartness is measured in education system outcomes, so of course more heavy investment and subsidization in education industry will grow that.

I remember reading MR links to articles suggesting the opposite. The global trend over the past century is massive growth to formal education spending and time spent in classrooms and the corresponding society improvements haven’t materialized. I remember reading that a child in France or Italy in 1960 received far less education than today’s children in many developing nations, but those education investments don’t correlate with other desirable social outcomes. I can’t find the link off hand.

144 Cooper December 9, 2016 at 3:04 pm

I think you bring up an excellent point here.

The kind of math that is taught in high schools tends to bear little resemblance to the kind of math that 80%+ of the US population will be exposed to in their day to day lives.

Often times, we are trying to teach calculus to people who don’t understand fractions or the difference between a million and a billion. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and effort.

145 Art Deco December 9, 2016 at 2:45 pm

but has near-zero relevance to day to day work tasks in almost every job.

I gather stats were never of use to you at work.

146 Massimo Heitor December 9, 2016 at 6:21 pm

What strikes me is that I personally know successful K-12 school principals with very high salaries and prestigious, successful careers that know less math than most grade school children. Or less math than a convenience store clerk. And they sincerely preach the benefits of math despite not really knowing or using math at all.

To directly respond to your assertion, I use very basic stats, but I’ve never found paying work for fancier stats. And I love applied math, I have invested and will continue to invest in upper division university math classes, but often the computer jobs that genuinely use it are somewhat rare.

I worked closely with a guy with a PhD in statistics. He never would have gotten his job without the PhD credential and status, and he was genuinely seriously knowledgable and skilled at math, but he never actually used math in his day to day tasks. Statistics is a useful and widely applied subject.

147 M December 9, 2016 at 3:03 pm

“(They) acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective”

This one is always a bit questionable to me. You could have great teachers and they boost up student scores, but then the children go out of the classroom and has anything permanent actually happened? So is it actually great to put talent in education?

It’s great for your country’s PISA scores if teachers are strong and children score well, but if that isn’t “sticky” outside the classroom when the teachers go away, then it’s not going to translate into real economic and scientific accomplishment, which is the pearl we’re looking for. Smart people should probably be *doing* things, not doing teaching so much.

“(They) helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement”

This kind of thing can shade quite easily into the “rat race” as well. That could give you good PISA scores, for the long term it might be a misguided goal.

148 Troll me December 9, 2016 at 3:35 pm

The effect of a good teacher in the long run is not in the volume of information stuffed into the head of the child during that period of learning, but the approach to learning and other stuff which improves the child’s ability to successfully apply themselves in different situations.

So, more focus on different ways to learn vocabulary, say, than drilling in whatever the teacher’s preferred method is. (Followed by drilling in whatever the teachers most preferred method is…)

More on effective study skills than “get it in your head by Tuesday” …

149 M December 9, 2016 at 3:48 pm

In theory you’d hope it works like that, that better teachers actually teach transferable skills and the sheer ability to learn and adapt, once the teacher is removed from the frame.

150 white man December 9, 2016 at 7:57 pm

“The effect of a good teacher in the long run is not in the volume of information stuffed into the head of the child during that period of learning, but the approach to learning and other stuff which improves the child’s ability to successfully apply themselves in different situations.”

And the advantage of this approach is that when it’s shown that the improvements disappear in two years, you can still claim it had a positive effect. How can you prove that someone’s “approach to learning and other stuff which improves the child’s ability to successfully apply themselves in different situations” changed? It’s unfalsifiable.

151 Troll me December 10, 2016 at 12:12 am

Well, I guess teachers just shouldn’t bother to try then, because it’s unfalsifiable.

152 Beduoino December 9, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Why does MR say this is a good NYT article when in fact it is a very article? It wonders why “nearly a third of American 15-year-olds are not meeting a baseline level of [math] ability” when the answer is obvious: call it race, ethnicity, population group, demographic category, whatever. The European-descended Americans score as high as their European counterparts in the European PISA countries, the Chinese-Americans score comparably to the Chinese in China, the Middle-Eastern Americans score comparably to Middle Easterners, etc. Math ability is baked in the cake, and can’t be meaningfully improved via interventions. Maybe one day we will be able to change this via genetic tinkering, but we’re not there yet. So worrying, as the silly NYT does, about “America’s” overall PISA results is completely pointless.

153 M December 9, 2016 at 3:52 pm

There’s wide variation in the PISA math within Europe though, between closely related groups. It seems hard for that to be true and “math is baked in the cake”.

Math, of all the primary subject taught by schools, actually seems like the *least* baked in the cake. It’s kind of a weird, arcane subject that your average thinker finds boring and tedious and puts relatively little effort into. There’s more scope for schools to change the outcome by engaging interest, when you compare to something like reading that’s just immediately interesting to more people and so more likely that children are already performing near peak performance with little encouragement.

154 DD0000 December 9, 2016 at 5:17 pm

I got blocked on Twitter and called a racist by Amanda Ripley when I pointed out that Americans did as well, if not better, than their ethnic counterparts around the world.

How weak can someone’s worldview be if they react to (government) statistics by completely blocking out that information?

Mind boggling.

155 white man December 9, 2016 at 7:52 pm

It’s just Tyler signalling. He knew we’d destroy it in the comments.

156 Troll me December 10, 2016 at 12:15 am

“Math ability is baked in the cake, and can’t be meaningfully improved via interventions”

Hey, this means we can save lots of money by cancelling all math classes. Since interventions don’t make any difference.

Or … is this from the story about how one time somewhere they spent $10 million on a really flash campus for low-income students and it didn’t help to increase their math scores?

157 TallDave December 9, 2016 at 11:34 pm

Are those qualities producing those outcomes, or are they both products of some other qualities?

158 Sophia December 12, 2016 at 7:04 pm

How do you reconcile “math at all levels” with:


Two years in a row, the USA team has placed first in the world at this event and the USA has consistently been in the top tier at this rigorous event for over two decades.

There is a large thriving and robust culture of talented young students in the USA who have taken ownership of their math education (with the aid of online resources such as The Art of Problem Solving website and Expii and informal grass roots local mathcircles) and they can solve problems that would challenge professional mathematicians, let alone high school teachers.

And they are not necessarily from the most affluent backgrounds. This mathlete with several International Mathematical Olympiad gold medals and other honors is the son of a BART train operator. http://www.mercurynews.com/2011/03/15/danvilles-evan-odorney-wins-intel-science-talent-search/

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