Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PISA Scores

The "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" excerpt in last weekend's WSJ from Amy Chua's new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1594202842/tilsoncapitalpar), to which I dedicated an entire email (http://edreform.blogspot.com/2011/01/comments-on-why-chinese-mothers-are.html), has stirred up a worldwide storm of controversy, debate and discussion (see below), which I think is great, given that the Chinese focus on education and achievement is why I believe that this will be the China Century and why the first 10 years of this century are a harbinger of what's to come. 


I just finished reading Chua's book and really enjoyed it.  It's quite a tale of her harsh upbringing and how she raised her children in a similar way.  It worked great for her obedient first child, but blew up in her face with her second child, who rebelled – and ultimately won – so her book is much more nuanced than the WSJ article is.  As I wrote in my email last week, I think the extreme techniques Chua initially used do more harm than good, and that the optimal point on a 0-10 spectrum is an 8 – and, interestingly, that's exactly where Chua has ended up.


2) As you'll see from the length of this email, I'm obsessed with this topic – because it's REALLY important.  This email list focuses almost exclusively schools and the impact – both positive and negative – that they can make, but I want to repeat what I said in last week's email: parents are MUCH more important than schools in determining kids' life outcomes.  Thus, I'm actually somewhat sympathetic to teachers who complain about how hard it is to educate kids who have parents who rarely read to them and instead let them rot their minds watching TV and playing video games all day long.  Regarding the latter, studies show Latino and black children are MUCH more likely than white and Asian children to watch more than four hours of TV and do less than one hour of homework every school day, as this chart from page 18 of my school reform presentation shows posted at: www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides)



But I'd argue that ethnicity isn't the main driver, because I've seen huge numbers of black and Latino children of immigrants excel at even the worst schools.  For example, 80% of the NYC students at 32 inner-city NYC high schools who pass AP exams in the REACH program I co-founded report that one or both of their parents were born outside the U.S.  It's the children from families that have experienced multi-generational welfare dependency – whether white, black or Latino – who are the toughest to educate because their home environments are the most difficult.  It's important to keep this in mind when comparing two schools that appear to have similar demographics: say, both have 80% low income black students.  If one school has mostly children of Caribbean and African immigrants and the other has children from families that have been on welfare for generations, the latter school will face a MUCH greater challenge.


All of this said, I'm tired of hearing excuses from educators who throw up their hands and say (sometimes publicly, but usually privately), "What can we do with THOSE kids?"  (For more on this defeatist – and sometimes racist attitude – read this story from the trenches: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2009/07/story-from-trenches-send-me-more.html.)  Yes, some kids are a much greater challenge to educate, but rather than giving up on them, thereby ensuring that demography is destiny, for these kids we need to provide ESPECIALLY great schools and teachers to give them a chance in life – yet we systematically do the opposite.  This is profoundly wrong and contrary to everything this nation stands for.


3) Lest you think it's just a stereotype that Asian are achieving at high levels, Rob LoPiccolo at UKA Teacher U sent me this fascinating analysis of PISA scores of various groups of U.S. students.  Note how well U.S. Asian students and those who attend schools with fewer than 10% free and reduced lunch students do, as well as the HUGE gap between girls (who trail only six other countries) and boys (who trail 20 countries), and the horrific results for black, Latino and students who attend 75%+ FRL schools.


Here's the raw data:


U.S. <10%FRL*, 551

U.S. Asian, 541

Korea, 539

Finland, 536

U.S. 10-24.9%FRL, 527

U.S. White, 525

Canada, 524

New Zealand, 521

Japan, 520

Australia, 515

U.S. Females, 513

Netherlands, 508

Belgium, 506

Norway, 503

U.S. 25-49.9% FRL, 502

Estonia, 501

Switzerland, 501

Poland, 500

Iceland, 500


Sweden, 497

Germany, 497

Ireland, 496

France, 496

Denmark, 495

United Kingdom, 494

Hungary, 494

U.S. Males, 488

Portugal, 486

Italy, 486

Slovenia, 483

Greece, 483

Spain, 481

Czech Republic, 478

Slovak Republic, 477

Israel, 474

Luxembourg, 472

U.S. 50-74.9% FRL, 471

Austria, 470

U.S. Hispanic, 466

Turkey, 464

Chile, 449

U.S. >75% FRL, 446

U.S. Black, 441

Mexico, 425

(*FRL = Free & Reduced Lunch)

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