Why are kids from other countries smarter then our kids? - Mothering Forums

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Old 12-21-2007, 03:25 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Not all of them of course! But, when measured by country as a whole, kids from other countries, like Europe or Asia, are said to be laughing at "dumb American kids". : I'm assuming they are speaking about public schools. Does anyone know why this is? How are schools run differently over there? Are schools in other countries public? Private? Do they teach in a different manner? Is it the family life and big importance on education?

We seem to be testing here so much, the the No Child Left Behind Act (which really does'nt seem to be working much) but I don't think schools are doing much better then before. Too many high school seniors are not able to pass the exit exam. Is it possible to copy the practices of schools from other countries that are doing much better? It seems logical enough.
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Old 12-21-2007, 03:51 PM
 
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But, when measured by country as a whole, kids from other countries, like Europe or Asia, are said to be laughing at "dumb American kids
Children in continents like Asia and Europe are not smarter. Their educational systems are different; their methods of measuring achievement are different. One of the worst mistakes we make is comparing the academic achievements of our students with those in other countries, such as China. Their culture alone is so different that you simply cannot put the two educational systems side-by-side for comparison.

Other countries track their children from a very young age; we know that our system does not provide equal access to all, but other systems are explicitly designed to be inequal. Children who are perceived to have limited abilities are put to the side, and their academics are not measured with the others. Many of the impressive statistics you see from other countries represent only the "best of the best" and those children who are identified as "the best" are given all the resources they need.

When we use a standard of measurement similar to that used in other countries, it includes almost everyone. There is a huge range represented. Unfortunately, because our culture is so different, it makes no sense to use the same systems used in other countries. It doesn't work for us. But, on paper, the other countries look so damned good, and that's what parents see and what parents want, and so that is what ultimately happens.
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Old 12-21-2007, 04:31 PM
 
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I can only speak from personal experience in India. My dh is from India and his whole family is still there. I have noticed that (in general) there is a much greater emphasis on education rather than other values that we have in the US. For example sports and fine arts. In India they have sports and music and dance lessons, but they always come second to academics. Kids there start school at age 4 and learn what our kids do in K at age 5. Dh's relatives were surprised that our 3yo was not in preschool yet, and our 6yo had only just finished K.

They all wear uniforms, even in public schools, sit in rows, and drill. They have a lot more homework, a lot more tests, and it's very competitive to get into college at all. Your whole social merit is based on academics. Kids commit suicide if their grades are not good enough because they feel they are bringing shame to their families. When I was there I was not able to spend much time with the school aged kids because they were always studying for exams rather than visiting or having free time.

My dh attended a very good Catholic school in India from K to 12. He has a very good education in math and science. However he and many others I have met that are a product of this system seem to lack a lot of the creativity that our kids are allowed to develop. He can't appreciate poetry very well, he never developed an ear for music, and it's hard for him to think outside the box except in the areas where he specialized in school. (A lot of that is cultural too, as he grew up with servants to do a lot of things for him so he never learned to repair things or clean things.) My dh is somewhat athletic thanks to tennis lessons and street cricket, but he dropped those things in high school due to lack of time because he had to study so much.

When I was there I would meet my MIL's friends and the first thing they would mention after their names is their children and what they are doing in life: engineer, brain surgeon, corporate director.

In the school system the kids are tested and directed towards areas of specialties that they excel in: engineering, science, medicine, etc. The ones who don't score as high are often destined to go to trade school or have a life of manual labor. It's so hard to get into college and only the best of the best are admitted.

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Old 12-21-2007, 05:01 PM
 
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Children in continents like Asia and Europe are not smarter. Their educational systems are different; their methods of measuring achievement are different. One of the worst mistakes we make is comparing the academic achievements of our students with those in other countries, such as China. Their culture alone is so different that you simply cannot put the two educational systems side-by-side for comparison.

Other countries track their children from a very young age; we know that our system does not provide equal access to all, but other systems are explicitly designed to be inequal. Children who are perceived to have limited abilities are put to the side, and their academics are not measured with the others. Many of the impressive statistics you see from other countries represent only the "best of the best" and those children who are identified as "the best" are given all the resources they need.

When we use a standard of measurement similar to that used in other countries, it includes almost everyone. There is a huge range represented. Unfortunately, because our culture is so different, it makes no sense to use the same systems used in other countries. It doesn't work for us. But, on paper, the other countries look so damned good, and that's what parents see and what parents want, and so that is what ultimately happens.
Maybe this is the case for some countries, but definitely not all. In fact, I woudl say it would be a minority.


One problem that I see with the U.S. education system is that schools in richer neighbourhoods get more money than those in poorer neighbourhoods. The students in poorer neighbourhoods often have special needs such as esl, poverty issues, etc that require more money, not less.

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Old 12-21-2007, 05:20 PM
 
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Maybe this is the case for some countries, but definitely not all. In fact, I woudl say it would be a minority.


One problem that I see with the U.S. education system is that schools in richer neighbourhoods get more money than those in poorer neighbourhoods. The students in poorer neighbourhoods often have special needs such as esl, poverty issues, etc that require more money, not less.
No, it's not the case in all or even most countries. However, it is largely the case in countries that we tend to compare ourselves to. Yes, there is a huge disparity in how we fund our schools; but, we also increasingly measure everyone on the same achievement scale, as if all things are equal. And we have pushed ourselves to use that same achievement scale because of our obsession with comparing our schools to those in other countries, even though culturally we are completely different. Those few countries I was referring to are the ones that get highlighted in the media as being academically superior, and are the countries that are brought up constantly among those who create our academic testing standards.
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Old 12-21-2007, 05:24 PM
 
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Oh, and our obsession with closing the gap on testing and changing curriculum to reflect only what is measured on those tests has allowed us to ignore what is really missing in our system.
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Old 12-21-2007, 05:26 PM
 
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No, it's not the case in all or even most countries. However, it is largely the case in countries that we tend to compare ourselves to. Yes, there is a huge disparity in how we fund our schools; but, we also increasingly measure everyone on the same achievement scale, as if all things are equal. And we have pushed ourselves to use that same achievement scale because of our obsession with comparing our schools to those in other countries, even though culturally we are completely different. Those few countries I was referring to are the ones that get highlighted in the media as being academically superior, and are the countries that are brought up constantly among those who create our academic testing standards.
Which countries?

Because I have seen comparisons with countries such as Canada, and western European countries. While I can't speak for other countries, I know that our students are measured on the same achievement scale. I assumed most Europeans countries were similar.

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Old 12-21-2007, 05:36 PM
 
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Yes, there is a huge disparity in how we fund our schools; but, we also increasingly measure everyone on the same achievement scale, as if all things are equal. And we have pushed ourselves to use that same achievement scale because of our obsession with comparing our schools to those in other countries, even though culturally we are completely different.
How exactly would this bear out in math? Yes, there are cultural differences that affect expectations at home and on the part of the student, but these don't affect the scale used. How do cultural differences skew the measurement of mathematical achievement?
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Old 12-21-2007, 05:54 PM
 
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Which countries?

Because I have seen comparisons with countries such as Canada, and western European countries. While I can't speak for other countries, I know that our students are measured on the same achievement scale. I assumed most Europeans countries were similar.
Sweden and China come immediately to mind. China's system is very much like I described and, as an educator, I heard constant comparisons of the US to China. There is no basis for comparison there. Our systems are completely different. Sweden was also mentioned frequently--but Sweden, last I knew, didn't have special education students in their mainstream. In the US, specifically here in Virginia, the achievement of special education students and ESoL students are measured with the same standardized test as everyone else and their scores are included in the school's academic profile.
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Old 12-21-2007, 05:55 PM
 
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Children in continents like Asia and Europe are not smarter.
I shouldn't have said countries like Europe or Asia! I was thinking of specific countries like China, and others in Europe that I've heard do real well.

So maybe what it comes down to is the home environment? They might teach the same way over there, but we see the results of the families who actually care about their kids educations? Which would probably be about the same if you look at how kids with caring parents here do in school?

I have never looked into the models of teaching in other countries. But when I heard about how they are generally "smarter" then us, I wanted to see what they were doing differently.

It seems there is so much emphasis on testing here now. Do you think that will work?
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Old 12-21-2007, 06:06 PM
 
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How exactly would this bear out in math? Yes, there are cultural differences that affect expectations at home and on the part of the student, but these don't affect the scale used. How do cultural differences skew the measurement of mathematical achievement?
Again, the countries that you most frequently hear about excelling in math and science are nurturing the best of the best. You don't get a full picture of ALL the kids because all the kids are not included in the testing that we ultimately see.

Also, it is about the resources available to parents and schools. Some families simply don't have the resources of others. Some parents are more worried about losing their house or feeding their children than they are about reinforcing academic skills--not because they don't care, but because they don't have the time or the energy. If basic needs--food, housing, safety, etc...--are not met, we don't have the personal resources to focus on anything beyond that.
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Old 12-21-2007, 06:12 PM
 
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There may well be a statistical loophole.

But, honestly, I think the biggest difference may be good, old-fashioned American anti-intellectualism.
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Old 12-21-2007, 06:16 PM
 
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I shouldn't have said countries like Europe or Asia! I was thinking of specific countries like China, and others in Europe that I've heard do real well.

So maybe what it comes down to is the home environment? They might teach the same way over there, but we see the results of the families who actually care about their kids educations? Which would probably be about the same if you look at how kids with caring parents here do in school?

I have never looked into the models of teaching in other countries. But when I heard about how they are generally "smarter" then us, I wanted to see what they were doing differently.

It seems there is so much emphasis on testing here now. Do you think that will work?
No, the testing is not going to work. That's been my point all along. In focusing so much on a test, we are going to lose whatever is still good in our system. Our children are going to lose the ability to think for themselves. Teachers are already seeing it. They're losing critical thinking skills and creativity.

By focusing on the testing, schools are ignoring why there is such a huge gap. They are ignoring student learning styles and real learning.

It's not about parents who *care* about their kids more. In some countries, the pressure is so great that some students can't take it.
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Old 12-21-2007, 06:48 PM
 
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Again, the countries that you most frequently hear about excelling in math and science are nurturing the best of the best. You don't get a full picture of ALL the kids because all the kids are not included in the testing that we ultimately see.
Except that the best US students still underperform relative to these international scores.
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Old 12-21-2007, 06:55 PM
 
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Except that the best US students still underperform relative to these international scores.
Look at USAmma's post. The focus in the systems are different.

I don't like our public education system. I'm not teaching anymore (although my husband is), and we're now homeschooling. But, this need to compare our schools to systems in countries that are so culturally different is changing our system for the worst. It was this push for testing and so-called "accountability" that pushed me out of classroom.
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Old 12-21-2007, 06:57 PM
 
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There is a difference between students from the past and students of today in our own country. When I was looking at a unit study on Laura Ingals for my son, I came across a test that Laura had to pass in order to exit the 8th grade. I honestly doubt that many of our adults, even our teachers, could pass that test - much less our students. We have lowered the bar so much.

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Old 12-21-2007, 07:24 PM
 
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No, the testing is not going to work. That's been my point all along. In focusing so much on a test, we are going to lose whatever is still good in our system. Our children are going to lose the ability to think for themselves. Teachers are already seeing it. They're losing critical thinking skills and creativity.

By focusing on the testing, schools are ignoring why there is such a huge gap. They are ignoring student learning styles and real learning.
What good in our system are we going to lose by taking more tests? Is it that students will no longer make the learning their own and get something of their own from it? And instead try to memorize certain facts that may be the ones asked in the test? Facts that may not be of importance to them so that they just memorize for a test and then let it go after?

I'm asking because I've been trying to get my ds's virtual charter school teacher to understand why I don't want him to take the STAR test this spring. But I haven't been able to get my feelings into words. Basically, I want my kids to enjoy their learning experience and I'm afraid that if I changed my main focus to getting them ready for a test, the joy would be sucked right out. It would be taken over by my stressing over them maybe not getting certain material that might be on a test, and ds having to memorize boring facts, and grammer rules.
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Old 12-21-2007, 07:35 PM
 
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But, this need to compare our schools to systems in countries that are so culturally different is changing our system for the worst. It was this push for testing and so-called "accountability" that pushed me out of classroom.
I disagree with your first statement and completely empathize with your second. I think the need to LOOK better is the driving force for system change rather than any meaningful reform on the learning front (unless of course you subscribe to the theory that NCLB is meant as the wedge to begin the dismantling of public education... but that's another issue). I have a 6th grade Russian math text that is so far beyond what I've seen in comparable US texts (6th/7th grade) it's shocking; it's not beyond in terms of scope and sequence, but rather in what level of mathematical understanding the children are expected to have of the material. In other words, it's a math text rather than a social studies tie-in. Likewise I've seen a study put out by a (I don't remember which) school of education "demonstrating" that students are developmentally unready to understand place value until 4th grade. Ummm, OK, tell that to kids elsewhere in the world. The study was based on student performance and of course didn't include any cross-cultural comparisons. Precisely to what level of ignorance do we aspire?
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Old 12-21-2007, 07:41 PM
 
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There may well be a statistical loophole.

But, honestly, I think the biggest difference may be good, old-fashioned American anti-intellectualism.

I second that. My DH is from Israel and he doesn't understand why our son is not competitive academically. "It doesn't bother you that Ian reads better than you?" "Not really." My husband doesn't understand that smart kids here get teased by their peers rather than respected. The smart children on TV and in movies are usually portrayed as some kind of misfit as well, so the anti-intellectualism is deep-rooted and spread throughout the culture and the message is usually that it is better to be popular than intelligent. Good-looking, wealthy people get respected more than the intellectuals in the US.
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Old 12-21-2007, 07:48 PM
 
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Actually, I was interested to see a couple of recent studies in which Canada placed very high internationally in these types of tests - I believe one was about math and science, and one was reading. The top Canadian provinces placed in the top 5 or so internationally. The US placed much lower (still more balm for the Canadian psyche, which lives to define itself against all things American...) This surprised me, since educators on both sides of the borders engage in many of the same discussions, although in the US you do seem to have way more testing and way less recess!

Canada's system really doesn't line up with the sort of hyper-stratified system that some previous posters have referred to, where children are streamed early and test results reflect this.

There have also been studies showing that the education system in Canada is far more of a source of upward mobility for children than in the US...
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Old 12-21-2007, 07:59 PM
 
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Yep you mentioned a lot of what I have read and think too mammastar.

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Old 12-21-2007, 08:37 PM
 
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So maybe we ought to be focusing a little more on what's working in Canada.

I just really don't think more testing and a more rigid curriculum are the answers, and that seems to be the only direction educational reform is headed here.

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I disagree with your first statement and completely empathize with your second. I think the need to LOOK better is the driving force for system change rather than any meaningful reform on the learning front (unless of course you subscribe to the theory that NCLB is meant as the wedge to begin the dismantling of public education... but that's another issue).
Very true. But, it's in comparing ourselves to incomparable systems that we decide we look bad. So, we look for quick fixes instead of really breaking things down to find the source of the problem.
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Old 12-22-2007, 12:49 AM
 
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How exactly would this bear out in math? Yes, there are cultural differences that affect expectations at home and on the part of the student, but these don't affect the scale used. How do cultural differences skew the measurement of mathematical achievement?
You might be interested in reading Liping Ma's book Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics which compares how math is taught in China vs the US. Much of the discussion in the book is based on the fundamental differences in the teacher's mathematical understanding and ability to related that to students. It's an interesting (albeit academic) read.

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Old 12-22-2007, 01:15 AM
 
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I'm American-Canadian and was educated in both countries at different stages.

First I think it's important to say American kids are just as smart - they may just not be as well educated in specific ways. The US has remarkable universities and colleges and loads of extremely smart amazing people.

So here are my entirely personal thoughts:

- the way US education is funded has a huge impact as was mentioned by a pp. Here in Ontario, everyone's taxes go into the provincial (state-level) pot and then that is distributed over the province. That doesn't mean we don't have better and worse schools, but I think I would say that generally the gap between a "good" school and a "bad" school is just not as wide.

- the US educational system has a much more patriotic focus. For example, in elementary school in the US, there is a lot of emphasis on US history and it seemed to me to be taught in a narrative way - this happened, for these reasons, and then this happened, for these reasons. In Canada the emphasis tends to be more on exploration of other cultures and geographies, which are just by the nature of it, different. I will admit to my bias here but I think the American approach encourages people to look for a single right answer and the Canadian encourages a little bit more looking for multiple answers, which might show up in strange ways in other subjects, or on tests.

- teachers in the US are paid worse overall. Again, this is my bias, but I find in the US there is a lot of stuff said like "teachers have the most important job and they spend their own money on supplies!" whereas when I was assisting here in Toronto it was more like "teachers have a very important job and would only rarely get caught dead spending their own money on supplies because, like business people, their work provides what they need to do the job." I suspect this means some of the really good teachers that might get burned out in the US stay teaching in Canada.

- kids in Canada have access to health care all the time, which helps them to be healthy in school, etc. Overall the safety net helps.

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Old 12-22-2007, 01:45 AM
 
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You might be interested in reading Liping Ma's book Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics which compares how math is taught in China vs the US. Much of the discussion in the book is based on the fundamental differences in the teacher's mathematical understanding and ability to related that to students. It's an interesting (albeit academic) read.
I love, love, love this book. It and The Teaching Gap are good resources to understand the difference in teacher training, classroom management, and cultural factors in the home and at school. What's interesting to note is that the majority of teacher training in China (and in some other Asian countries) takes place through a mentoring and discussion process after the teacher starts working. IIRC, they get a full period a day in which to engage in discussion with more experienced colleagues.
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Old 12-22-2007, 02:27 AM
 
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Oh goodness. This really is comparing apples and rocks? It's impossible to make an accurate comparison b/c the situations are sooo different.
Just off the top of my head....


- the focus of schools are different
- creativity often has a higher place than drilling in American schools. Just b/c a country can recite facts doesn't make them smarter, which brings me to my next point...
- define smarter??
- the US is a HUGE melting pot.... the socio-economic, diverse aspect alone between a country such as the US and Finland is going to be huge....
- who are we comparing against.... often the kids that are taking high school tests ARE the top students that have tracked into those systems to take the tests, versus the US were every child takes them.
- teacher pay
- how we value teachers
- parental expectations of students

Trying to make a comparison doesn't work. There are too many reasons for the differences.
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Old 12-22-2007, 05:12 AM
 
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- the focus of schools are different
- creativity often has a higher place than drilling in American schools. Just b/c a country can recite facts doesn't make them smarter, which brings me to my next point...
If you take the time to look at released items from the TIMSS questionnaires, you'll see they measure mathematical understanding, not recollection of math facts. The science questions likewise center around understanding.

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- define smarter??
Not going there. I think we're really talking about achievement.

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- the US is a HUGE melting pot.... the socio-economic, diverse aspect alone between a country such as the US and Finland is going to be huge....
But not so much the US and Canada. For example, only about 60% of Toronto CMA residents claim English as their first language.

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- who are we comparing against.... often the kids that are taking high school tests ARE the top students that have tracked into those systems to take the tests, versus the US were every child takes them.
I often hear this, but, especially with elementary students this isn't always the case. For example, Japanese students aren't tracked until after the middle school grades. TIMSS tests 4th and 8th grade students and only allows systematic exclusion of mentally and developmentally disabled students and students with less than one year's instruction in the language of the test (countries that refuse to meet he criteria cannot participate). Here's sampling design for the 2003 TIMSS tests.
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Old 12-22-2007, 01:05 PM
 
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Originally Posted by NoHiddenFees View Post
Except that the best US students still underperform relative to these international scores.
Based upon our obviously limited personal experience with three different school districts in one state, my experience has been that this is often due to the fact that there is very little emphasis on meeting the academic needs of "the best." These children will usually pass the NCLB tests whether the schools do anything for them or not and there just isn't enough time and money to put toward doing something that you don't have to do.

As a school, if you don't spend a lot of time and resources bringing kids who are not testing at grade level up to grade level, your test scores will suffer and you will be put on a watch list and possible targeted for restructuring. If you don't put time and resources toward kids who aren't going to hurt your test scores, you get mad parents but you won't get your school taken over by the state.
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Old 12-22-2007, 02:06 PM
 
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Originally Posted by GuildJenn View Post
- kids in Canada have access to health care all the time, which helps them to be healthy in school, etc. Overall the safety net helps.
I don't think the affect of this difference between Canadian and American education/society can be ignored. I think this is a large part of the difference, in addition to the more equitable funding model (which is by no means perfect).

Our testing environment is not as..shall we say..focused as yours. Kids in Ontario get tested in grades 3, 6 and in grade 10. There are programs in place to help kids who struggle in highschool and provide alternative paths to graduation and future schooling/jobs.

I went to highschool in three schools in Florida and in two highschools in Ontario. The differences between the Florida schools were astounding. I found the US schools were far more rule oriented than student oriented and the atmosphere of the school was focused more on the extracuricular experience than the academic one. I also found huge variations between the same classes at different schools and huge variations in expectations for students between the college bound classes vs the general classes.

Karen

Blessed partner to a great guy, and mama to 4 amazing kids. Unfortunate target of an irrationally angry IRL stalker.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. ~ Buddha

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Old 12-23-2007, 12:13 AM
 
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This is purely anecdotal but I think American education has more breadth than some other countries. I worked in software development for a while with folks from India, France, and China. The people from Asian countries had to specialize early (around age 14) where as I didn't decide my specialty (major) until I was 20. In the intervening years I took a full complement of language, social studies, math, and lab science. Whereas they only took the math. Many European countries force students to specialize early as well.

I don't know what causes the disparity in test scores at younger grades. I think a lot of the previous posts have good points. Teaching isn't seen as an honorable career in American society. We struggle to get and keep good teachers. Some schools are chronically underfunded and struggle with rampant anti-intellectualism from parents.

Additionally, at the upper middle class schools I'm familiar with there seems to be an attitude that everyone deserves an A or B. When teachers at the local high school started getting tough and giving average kids Cs and Ds (especially in honors classes) there was outrage. People went to school board meetings and called the local talk radio station asserting that their kid shouldn't have to do more than 2 hours of homework a night, needed a 4.0, and also needed to play 2 sports, participate in band, go to church three times a week, and have time to do chores.

Some countries, especially Finland, seem to have figured out a magic formula that let's kids be kids and still test well. I wish we could import their ideas.
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