Sunday, June 29, 2014

Finland Has Better Teachers, Better Colleges! And Fluffier Kittens!

Do nations like Finland and South Korea really beat us in education? And kittens?

I’m getting sick of hearing about how this country is lacking when it comes to K-12 education. Oooo, critics moan, “Finland’s schools are way better! Finland has smarter teachers!”

(See: “Teachers: Will We Ever Learn,” New York Times, April 12, 2013).

Today, another article in the Times tries to make the same kind of comparison where colleges and universities are concerned.

One ranking from London credits the United States with having 18 of the top 25 universities in the world. Sounds like we win! A second ranking coming out of Shanghai says we have 19 of the top 25. Sounds like we win!!!

Nope. We can’t possibly have good teachers in this country, preparing good students for success in the future. According to critics everything U. S. public school teachers and U. S. public schools do is terribly, terribly wrong.

You see, on “average,” it turns out U. S. colleges don’t do so good.

There’s even a chart to prove it. The chart shows the average “numeracy” score of graduates (ages 16-29) with bachelor’s degrees. It shows you what so many of these stupid charts show. Finland has better teachers! Finland has better colleges! Finland has children who eat their vegetables. Eat them at every meal. And never complain!

Finland has fluffier kittens! 

It turns out, compared to young college graduates around the world, ours don’t know beans from Brussels sprouts when the subject turns to math. And Finland beats us again:

1. Austria (average numeracy score: 326)
2. Flanders (a.k.a. Belgium—which makes me really hope we beat them in soccer on Tuesday)
3. Finland (average score : 322)

4. Czech Republic
5. Japan (average: 318)
6. Sweden

7. Germany (314)
8. Netherlands
9. Estonia

10. France
11. Slovak Republic
12. Denmark

13. Norway
14. Canada (301)
15. South Korea (297)


17. Westeros (296; okay, I made that one up)
18. Australia (296)
19. England/Ireland (296)

20. Ireland
21. Poland (you’ll see why this seems odd in a moment)
22. Cyprus

23. Italy
24. Spain (283)
25. Russian Federation (take that Putin, you scumbag; you finished tied for last; 283)

How do we get these scores? We study the results of a brand new test, Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, (PIAAC) first administered in 2011 and 2012, to adults ages 16-65 in twenty-four countries.

The Times article today has a number of different comparisons—math scores for 15-year-olds on the PISA tests (Program for International Student Assessment)—average reading scores for left-handed people taller than six feet—even kitten fluffiness, has probably been tested.

In all categories the United States purportedly looks bad. But you wonder. In 2012-2013, almost 820,000 foreign students came to this country to attend our colleges and universities. Did these poor devils not know they were wasting their money?

And, by the way, will we get credit if these graduates return home and score higher on the PIAAC tests in the future?

You have to wonder how accurate all these tests are. The PISA test, for example, did not exist until 2000. So how did nations of the world survive until then—without the ability to make fun of their incompoop neighbors? “We might be ignoramuses,” say the Italians, “but at least we’re not as dumb as the Spaniards!”

We’ve all seen in recent years how tests tied to No Child Left Behind failed to measure anything actually worth knowing. (And at a mere cost of $1.7 billion annually!) Here in Ohio, before I retired, we had a standardized test for social studies in the eighth grade. That test proved so lame the State of Ohio had to kill it after only six years. Even the Scholastic Aptitude Test, long used to “measure” the supposed decline and fall of U. S. education has now been found to be fatally flawed and in need of a serious makeover.

Finally, you might notice a number of statistical oddities related to PIAAC results. If you look at PISA scores going back to the year 2000, you notice that South Korea has never ranked lower than third among nations tested—and ranked first in 2009.

Here are comparative math scores (and rankings among nations) for 15-year-olds in the United States and South Korea on all PISA tests:

                              United States                     South Korea

2000                        493 (19th)                            547 (2nd)
2003                        483 (26th)                            542 (2nd)
2006                        474 (33rd)                            547 (3rd)
2009                        487 (28th)                            546 (1st)
2012                        481 (33rd)                            554 (3rd)

Nevertheless, in some bizarre fashion, South Korea’s huge lead dissipates by the time students move on and get their bachelor’s degrees from college. On one PISA test in 2003, they lead our kids by 73 points. When the very same organization uses the PIAAC test Korean college graduates see their lead in math cut to a single point.

You almost have to ask: Are South Korea’s schools really better? Or Japanese schools? Or Finland’s, for god sakes?

At this point, I’m not even sure Finland has fluffier kittens.


Also interesting to note, Australian 15-year-olds beat ours in math in every PISA test given, by 40 points in 2000 and 23 in 2012. Yet on the PIAAC test, their youngest college graduates could only manage to tie ours.

Same with Canada. Their kids supposedly out-performed ours by 40, 49, 53, 40 and 37 points on the five PISA tests; yet at the end of the line, on the PIAAC test their lead was only 5.

Meanwhile, scores for Finland on the PISA test dropped from a high of 548 in 2006 all the way down to 519 six years later.

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