Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Is America REALLY being out-taught? How valid is it to measure school performance based on math?

A friend posted this article today (today being more than a week ago now... sigh) to their Facebook account and the headline caught my eye: "Your Child Left Behind". Well, that says it all doesn't it? Or does it? Given the headline, I had to give it a look-see. It is actually quite an interesting article. It discusses a study undertaken to determine whether parents' claims that cross-country measurements are inaccurate because America is just so diverse. Basically, they looked at the percentages of top-performing students in math in various countries and ranked them.

Adding an unusual twist, the folks who did the study actually took each US state separately and ranked it against the countries of the world. For those of you who are not aware, US states each run their own educational system. There isn't common standardization about what is learned by whom at what age. There is also no standardization on who can teach and what qualifications they must have. And, given the size of the US (Jordan is about the same size as a smallish US state, say Indiana) and the fact that there are effectively 48 contiguous states the size of countries, you can't really compare all of the US to any other single country.

It's pretty interesting to see the states ranked against other countries. The first thing I noticed was that my home state, Alabama, outperformed only a small handful of states. This has been the story of life since I've been alive pretty much. Alabama is typically ranked number 47 with the other two jockeying for number 49... Sigh. It is sandwiched (along with Oklahoma) between Serbia and Bulgaria at the bottom of the overall list. If you'd like to see the graph, you can find it here.

Now, I was actually looking at the list while thinking about how much more focus Jordan places on pushing math. Using the national curriculum, the Beans are doing math that I didn't start until at least 2 years later. I've noticed that they have a strong focus on math and push, push, push. Having spent some time observing college graduates in Jordan, I have definite thoughts on the shortcomings of the educational system here. Much lamented by wide swathes of the community, Jordan fails to prepare students for using creativity, critical reasoning, thinking and applying concepts. So, the focus on math comes at the expense of other topics. So, this focus on math should translate into better overall performance on a math-based comparison like this one, right? Well, actually not really. Jordan was one of the countries noted as falling below the measurable percentage. So, all the focus apparently isn't translating into the desired results.

But I guess what I really spend time thinking about are the areas where America has traditionally NOT been out-taught. I mean, so much lip service is given to the fact that students in Japan are so far ahead (in math at least). Excellent, so that means that Japan's superior educational system (presumably) has turned out graduates who are taking the world by storm, right? Hmmm... not so much. Like the US, Japan has had wins and losses. However, while we see lots of operational or numerical leadership, we often see little creative leadership.

So, spending time in another country broadens horizons and shows me areas that need supplementing. In Jordan, the country needs a good dose of creative thinking. They need the opportunity to develop innovative skills. While societally people are good at copying, little true innovation goes on. I'd love to see more and more of this. My experience this year with NaNoWriMo has convinced me that it is an area ripe for integration into Jordan's school system. And, while some schools utilized the Young Writer's Program at the high school level, I'm thinking that we need to start at the elementary level. That's my next goal, spreading the power of the written word into schools across Jordan. How will I do that? Ah, I'll keep you posted!

Happy Teaching!


At 9:28 AM , Blogger UmmFarouq said...

I loved and appreciated this post. Thank you!
This measurement of performance on the world scale gets old sometimes. India, China, Japan--yes, they have their educational merits and bragging rights. But so do many other places. It's about perception as much as it is about percentages.
The older the kids get, and the longer we live in Jordan, the more I realize that being a product of public education in the 47th/48th ranked state of the union was NOT SUCH A BAD THING AT ALL. Isn't that something?
True, true, regarding creative thinking and innovation. I'm ready to inject a dose of this in my kids' schools. :)

At 10:01 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Umm F, glad you enjoyed this one. It's definitely about perception and the things you value.

I'm a-ok with the education I got. It has stood me in good stead. And I'm awful in math... but it wasn't the system, it was ME.

I'm thinking that this summer we should push creativity and such by maybe doing the NaNoWriMo for kids program... Instead of the summer reading program or in addition, either one.


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