Arnold Kling  

Can America Learn?

PRINT
Speaking of Foreign Languages... Bastiat's "What Is Seen and Wh...

Timothy Taylor, the economics blogger with by far the highest signal-noise ratio, has another valuable post, this time spotlighting a piece by Martin West on Global Lessons for Improving U.S. Education. I'll snip from Taylor's excerpt:


[T]here are three broad areas in which the consistency of findings across studies using different international tests and country samples bears attention.

Exit exams. Perhaps the best-documented factor is that students perform at higher levels in countries (and in regions within countries) with externally administered, curriculum-based exams at the completion of secondary schooling that carry significant consequences for students of all ability levels. Although many states in the United States now require students to pass an exam in order to receive a high-school diploma, these tests are typically designed to assess minimum competency in math and reading and are all but irrelevant to students elsewhere in the performance distribution. In contrast, exit exams in many European and Asian countries cover a broader swath of the curriculum, play a central role in determining students' postsecondary options, and carry significant weight in the labor market. ... The most rigorous available evidence indicates that math and science achievement is a full grade-level equivalent higher in countries with such an exam system in the relevant subject.

Private-school competition. Countries vary widely in the extent to which they make use of the private sector to provide public education. ... Rigorous studies confirm that students in countries that for historical reasons have a larger share of students in private schools perform at higher levels on international assessments while spending less on primary and secondary education. Such evidence suggests that competition can spur school productivity. In addition, the achievement gap between socioeconomically disadvantaged and advantaged students is reduced in countries in which private schools receive more government funds.

High-ability teachers. Much attention has recently been devoted to the fact that several of the highest-performing countries internationally draw their teachers disproportionately from the top third of all students completing college degrees. This contrasts sharply with recruitment patterns in the United States.

What do these three reforms have in common? Answer below the fold.

Will technology be our salvation? Alex Tabarrok says that The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is nearly here. He points to an article on the Inquire Project.

That project stand to mine in the same relationship as the human brain stands to that of the lowly amoeba. Still, I am proceeding. If you don't mind going to a web site that has all the visual appeal of the back wall of a warehouse, you check out vhandouts. It is usable, at least for me. It's still a couple of months away from being something I could confidently recommend for other teachers. Comments welcome.

What do the three reforms described by Martin West have in common? All of them are opposed by teachers' unions. Really. Think about it. Do you disagree?


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (24 to date)
mike shupp writes:

Umm... uniform state-imposed school leaving exams, extensive state spending on private schools with support for lower economic class students, higher qualified teachers presumably recieving higher salaries. Yeah, I can see the arguments for doing these but I seem to be missing the pages in the Conservative Playbook where we all stand up and cheer such ideas.

mike shupp writes:

Umm... uniform state-imposed school leaving exams, extensive state spending on private schools with support for lower economic class students, higher qualified teachers presumably recieving higher salaries. Yeah, I can see the arguments for doing these but I seem to be missing the pages in the Conservative Playbook where we all stand up and cheer such ideas.

Tom West writes:

Reasonably rigorous matriculation exams might increase the average outcome of education, but would do so by sacrificing the ability of many students to graduate.

I don't think that the tradeoff could withstand the political backlash that would follow, especially given the disparate impact upon that enforcing such standards would have.

ajb writes:

Although the article mentions that ethnic diversity may be relevant to the poor US performance, the work by Hanushek that they rely on doesn't fully correct for these issues. Moreover, Hanushek has cited Garett Jones' work on the importance of national iq however they sidestep the issue by noting that PISA scores are better predictors of economic growth and performance than average iq measures. But if we think of test scores as influenced by base iq + school quality then he needs to figure out how much schooling quality adds. Until these studies are comprehensively done, studies that focus purely on mechanisms for assessment without correcting for baseline ethnicity will be flawed.

No one has even dealt with the simple correlations Sanandaji has done showing that correcting for country of origin, Americans do better than countries representing similar ethnicities (i.e. Euro americans do better than Europe, East Asians better than East Asia, Blacks than African nations, Latinos than Latin-America).

blink writes:

The article is remarkably thoughtful. You're right that these recommendations run counter to teacher union incentives. I am strongly in favor of greater competition among schools (e.g., via vouchers) and teachers (rewards linked to performance or at least competitively determined wages rather than a lock-step union scale).

On the other hand, I oppose high-stakes exams. First, centralized standards create entrenched interest groups, unresponsive measures of success, and other problems; better to let quality adjust via consumer choice. Second, testing procedures favor low-level factual knowledge. Performance may well signal intelligence and conscientiousness (Bryan's recent foreign language posts come to mind) but not value-added human capital.

david writes:

Disparate impact is easy to deal with: affirmative action on the resulting grades. Countries like Singapore do this.

mobile writes:

externally administered, curriculum-based exams at the completion of secondary schooling that carry significant consequences for students of all ability levels. ... cover a broader swath of the curriculum, play a central role in determining students' postsecondary options, and carry significant weight in the labor market.

Isn't this a reasonable description of the SAT and AP Achievement tests? At least for the top half or even the top two-thirds of students in the U.S.?


AlexB writes:

Use the same high school exit exams throughout. Increase state spending to make private schools more affordable to low-income students. Get more qualified teachers who earn wages (or bonuses) based on students' performance. All of these will contribute to an overall increase in education efficiency and improvement.

J. Le writes:

This article is very well written. Some countries follow this format and some don’t but I strongly believe they're different alternates than taking an exam or tests to decide where you belong. We should find better alternatives.

Steve Sailer writes:

Thanks for the vhandouts. I don't have a tablet so I was wondering if they are currently usable on a laptop? How about on an iPhone? (Don't feel like you should adapt them to these different formats: the tablet sounds exactly right for students in class. I just don't have one yet.)

Steve Sailer writes:

Speaking of exit exams, Oxford and Cambridge famously use a First, Second, Third, Pass exit exam, and it doesn't seem to have hurt their prestige.

Arnold Kling writes:

Steve,
The vHandouts are web-based, so laptops and phones are fine. But there are differences in browser support (Internet Explorer puts the diagrams below the space where I intended them to go; older Android phones do not render the diagrams in their current format)

Peter writes:

@ Mike Shupp,

None of these need go through the state. Private exams exist (such as the SAT), private schooling is talking of proportions not ed budgets, and teacher qualifications could be something considered by parents not bureaucrats.

John Smith writes:

To David,

Singapore does not carry out affirmative action on the national exams grades. On what basis do you claim that this is so?

For reference, the elementary school national exam is known as PSLE, high school is O' level, junior college is A' level. Tell me which of these are you referring to and provide support.

Mike Rulle writes:

Perhaps this is well known, but I do not know the percent of US students versus non-US students reaching the level of taking these comparative tests. I have always suspected that our performance is understated because we require all students to participate. It is not clear that being expert in science and math is possible to the average student. I would like to see how our top 5% do relative to the worlds top 5 %.

I am a critic of all levels of our education system.But I am also skeptical about claims of the superiority of other nations' education system as well.

Jardinero1 writes:

If you are in a horse race with other nations to beat their test scores then it makes sense to emulate what they do and standardize, centralize and test the results.

If you want to create a nation or economy that is vibrant, creative and less prone to catastrophic failures then allow the people, individually to decide and let markets rule.

Make schooling non-compulsory. Let parents decide what kind of schooling they want for their kids and how much they want. If we insist on public funding, give parents a tax payer funded voucher and let them send their kids where they see fit.

Barry O writes:

"Increase state spending to make private schools more affordable to low-income students."

This is essentially what we did to higher education. How did that turn out?

Compulsory school attendance is a subset of otherwise discredited industrial policy. Many people evidently cannot resist the impulse to prescribe for other people's children and to command the time of 44 million humans. The question "What curriculum should all ten-year-olds learn?" makes as much sense as "What size and style of shoes should all ten-year-olds wear?"

Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery, black or white, male or female, young or old. Academics compose school curricula. These are people who did well in high school, got accepted to college, did well as undergrads, got accepted to grad school, and landed tenure-track positions in Colleges of Education. These are people who are good at school. Schools give to many children no reason to do what schools require. You cannot eat a transcript. Schools fail because they ignore the role that incentives and student motivation play in system performance. Training an artistically or mechanically inclined child for an academic career using a transcript as the incentive is like teaching a cat to swim using carrots as the reward.

School choice enhances motivation by producing a better match between the individual child's interests and abilities, on the one hand, and the school's curriculum and method of instruction, on the other.

Kame writes:

During the last 20 years Sweden has conducted an enormous big school experiment with a voucher-based system with a significant share of independent/private school (going from a situation will more or less 100% of pupils attending public schools, which now is down to 75% or so).

During the same time period, no country has dropped more in PISA rankings... but, with vouchers and private/independent school competition we now have plenty of schools focusing on Media studies, Sports and the similar. Yeay.

Jardinero1 writes:

Kame,

Perhaps the parents of those students who participated in the program don't care about PISA rankings as much as they care about what, where and how their children are taught.

Tom West writes:

Kame, this would be as I expect. In a prosperous society with reasonable economic security, I would expect people to go for those things that provide the best short term outcome.

For the many students, instead of an adolescence filled with arguments about marks and homework, you now have students who can enjoy their youth, teachers who aren't having to fight tooth and nail to get their students engaged with trigonometry, and parents who get glowing report cards.

This is exactly what the market wants.

Of course, the long-term is perhaps more problematic, but protecting people from their self-destructive instincts is not what freedom of choice is all about...

Jardinero1 writes:

Tom and Kame,

What is often not considered is the futility and the waste of resources(malinvestment?) spent teaching large numbers of citizens subjects like physics , chemistry, geometry and trigonometry. Most economic actors will never utilize such knowledge sets and quickly forget them as soon as they enter the workforce. Most working members of society can be perfectly successful, in a strictly pecuniary sense, with nothing more than a sixth to eight grade education. Society wastes it resources force feeding more than this amount of schooling to the unwilling. Let the majority of people go free to find or make useful livings after they have learned to read and do basic arithmetic.

Tom West writes:

While I can see you train of logic, it seems odd that the link between education investment and economic prosperity is so very strong.

Now of course, one could claim causality runs the other direction, but all in all, given the the preponderance of data, I'm not certain I'd be in a hurry to smash the old system.

After all, there may be second-order effects - perhaps an uneducated populace tends to vote for politicians with economically disastrous policies.

Jardinero1 writes:

Over the long run, and by long run I mean generations, I think it runs the other way as you say. Economic growth begins and runs the fastest where the least investment education occurs. As education investment rises, growth tends to slow. Not saying there is a causal connection, just saying.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top