America’s Less-Than-Smartest Education System

I came across a great talk by Amanda Ripley about her book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. It is from C-SPAN in their coverage of this year’s National Book Festival (see video here).

She compares education systems in various countries. Her purpose seems to primarily be to understand the problems, challenges, and unique qualities of American education. In order to do this, she focuses on some of the best education systems in the world. It is the most intelligent and insightful analysis of education that I’ve come across. She also comes across as intellectually humble, something I always admire.

Here is a short video where she gives a brief introduction and overview:

The C-SPAN video happened to be playing on television while I was visiting my parent’s home. My mother likes C-SPAN. She was a public school teacher for her entire career. She has also been a conservative her entire life. She is critical of many things about public education, but she is still an ardent supporter of it, unlike my more libertarian father.

Amanda Ripley comes across as being somewhere on the left side of the spectrum, probably a fairly standard mainstream liberal. It was interesting that my mother agreed with everything Ripley spoke about. However, after the C-SPAN talk was over, both of my parents brought up the issue of tracking which they see as the solution. As that didn’t come up in the talk, I decided to buy the e-book and do a quick search. She does cover that issue in the book, but it isn’t what my parents would like to see. It doesn’t confirm their beliefs on this one aspect (pp. 137-138):

“Intuitively, tracking made sense. A classroom should function more efficiently if all the kids were at the same level. In reality, though, second tracks almost always came with second-rate expectations.

“Statistically speaking, tracking tended to diminish learning and boost inequality wherever it was tried. In general, the younger the tracking happened, the worse the entire country did on PISA. There seemed to be some kind of ghetto effect : Once kids were labeled and segregated into the lower track, their learning slowed down.”

Of course, it isn’t just my parents who love the idea of tracking. It is a mainstream position in the United States. Even many on the left will argue tracking is one of the answers to educational failure, although those on the right emphasize it the most. Conservatives say that some kids are just low IQ or lazy or untalented. Not all kids deserve equal education, because not all students are equal. In their minds, it would actually be unfair to treat all kids equally.

However, as this author demonstrates, it is precisely because Finland treats all students equally and gives all students equal opportunity that they have the greatest schools in the world. You go to one school in Finland and it is basically the same quality as any other. They direct their funding to where it is needed, not to where rich people send their kids to school.

No Finnish student gets permanently tracked, not even special education students, for in Finland they assume special education is a temporary condition. They have high expectations of all students and so all students improve, unlike in the US. Americans don’t realize how highly unusual is our version of tracking (pp. 138-139):

“When most people thought of tracking, they thought of places like Germany or Austria, where students were siphoned off to separate schools depending on their aspirations. Tracking took different forms in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Norway, and Sweden. But that didn’t mean it was less powerful.

“Tracking in elementary school was a uniquely American policy. The sorting began at a very young age, and it came in the form of magnet schools, honors classes, Advanced Placement courses, or International Baccalaureate programs. In fact, the United States was one of the few countries where schools not only divided younger children by ability, but actually taught different content to the more advanced track. In other countries , including Germany and Singapore, all kids were meant to learn the same challenging core content; the most advanced kids just went deeper into the material.

“Meanwhile, the enduring segregation of U.S. schools by race and income created another de facto tracking system, in which minority and low-income kids were far more likely to attend inferior schools with fewer Advanced Placement classes and less experienced teachers.”

There are many things that are fundamentally different about the U.S. education system, like so much else in this country. The author notes that the American obsession about extracurricular activities is one of the most unusual aspects.

Americans are obsessed about school more than are the Finnish, but there is a disconnect in this obsession. U.S. teachers give more homework, for example, and yet in Finland students get higher quality homework that demands more challenging independent thought. Finnish schools are laidback by American standards and parents are almost entirely uninvolved, but what they do is heavily invest in quality everything, especially teachers (who get their teacher training in the Finnish equivalent of U.S. Ivy League colleges). They don’t waste their time and money on keeping students entertained with sports, clubs, and other activities.

In most countries in the world, children simply go to school to learn and nothing else. Foreign students who come to the U.S. observe how easy is education here. And U.S. students that travel to the countries with better education systems observe that the students there take education more seriously.

The U.S. is atypical partly because of its dark history of racial segregation. Obviously, this plays into the dysfunctional tracking system that directs most resources to certain students. This leaves a substandard education for the rest of the students, mostly poor and minority. Tracking directly fits into a system of social hierarchy and social control. Those put on the lower track have little expectations placed upon them, or rather a great many negative expectations forced upon them.

Low expectations goes hand in hand with lowered standards and results. This isn’t surprising for anyone who knows about the research on the power of expectations, from the Rosenthal-Pygmalion Effect to Stereotype Threat. Tracking institutionalizes some of the worst aspects of our society, but it isn’t just about the failure of American society. Tracking, generally speaking, is just a bad system in any society.

Lessening the emphasis on tracking has been a wild success in countries all around the world. Americans should take note (pp. 139-140):

“By the early twenty-first century, many countries were slowly, haltingly, delaying tracking. When they did so, all kids tended to do better. In most Polish schools, tracking occurred at age sixteen. At Tom’s school in Wrocław, the sorting had already happened; only a third to half of the students who applied were accepted. Tom only saw the vocational kids when he came to gym class. They left as his class arrived.

“Finland tracked kids, too. As in Poland, the division happened later, at age sixteen, the consequence of forty years of reforms, each round of which had delayed tracking a little longer. Until students reached age sixteen, though, Finnish schools followed a strict ethic of equity. Teachers could not, as a rule, hold kids back or promote them when they weren’t ready. That left only one option: All kids had to learn. To make this possible, Finland’s education system funneled money toward kids who needed help. As soon as young kids showed signs of slipping, teachers descended upon them like a pit crew before they fell further behind. About a third of kids got special help during their first nine years of school. Only 2 percent repeated a grade in Finnish primary school (compared to 11 percent in the United States, which was above average for the developed world).

“Once it happened, tracking was less of a stigma in Finland. The government gave vocational high schools extra money, and in many towns, they were as prestigious as the academic programs. In fact, the more remote or disadvantaged the school, the more money it got. This balance was just as important as delaying tracking; once students got channeled into a vocational track, it had to lead somewhere. Not all kids had to go to college, but they all had to learn useful skills.

“In Finland and all the top countries, spending on education was tied to need, which was only logical. The worse off the students, the more money their school got. In Pennsylvania, Tom’s home state, the opposite was true. The poorest school districts spent 20 percent less per student, around $ 9,000 compared to around $ 11,000 in the richest school districts.”

Other countries came to realize tracking was ineffective, and so they changed their methods. For Americans, it has been just more cowbell (p. 140):

“That backward math was one of the most obvious differences between the United States and other countries. In almost every other developed country, the schools with the poorest students had more teachers per student; the opposite was true in only four countries: the United States, Israel, Slovenia, and Turkey, where the poorest schools had fewer teachers per student.

“It was a striking difference, and it related to rigor. In countries where people agreed that school was serious, it had to be serious for everyone. If rigor was a prerequisite for success in life, then it had to be applied evenly. Equity— a core value of fairness, backed up by money and institutionalized by delayed tracking— was a telltale sign of rigor.”

Many Americans, especially on the right, would argue these countries are successful because they are small and homogenous. They think that the main problem is that we have a large bureaucratic government that is trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all solution onto a diverse population. That of course misses the entire point of tracking. The U.S. has one of the least one-size-fits-all solutions in the world. Even ignoring that, can U.S. education problems be blamed on the government and on diversity?

To answer that question, I would put it into the context of what Ripley has to say about Singapore (pp. 160-161):

“In Singapore, the opposite happened. There, the population was also diverse, about 77 percent Chinese, 14 percent Malay, 8 percent Indian, and 1.5 percent other. People spoke Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil and followed five different faiths (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism). Yet Singaporeans scored at the top of the world on PISA, right beside Finland and Korea. There was virtually no gap in scores between immigrant and native-born students.

“Of course , Singapore was essentially another planet compared to most countries. It was ruled by an authoritarian regime with an unusually high-performing bureaucracy. The government controlled most of the rigor variables, from the caliber of teacher recruits to the mix of ethnicities in housing developments. Singapore did not have the kind of extreme segregation that existed in the United States, because policy makers had forbidden it.”

I doubt I’d want to live in Singapore, but it offers an interesting example. One of the points the author makes is that there are different ways to get high education results.

To Americans, Singapore seems authoritarian and dystopian. They have a highly centralized and powerful bureaucratic government. They don’t even have the benefit of a homogenous society.

That is everything that right-wingers use to rationalize America’s failing schools. And yet in Singapore it is the precise recipe for educational success.

It isn’t just about a few exceptional countries like Singapore. Diversity isn’t just that big of an issue. There are a high number of highly homogenous countries (homogenous in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, etc) that are extremely poor, have high rates of social problems, and measure low in their education systems. Sure, systems that work best in diverse societies likely will be different than what works in homogenous societies, but the basic point is that there are ways that both types of societies can attain very high standards of education.

Besides, even breaking down the U.S. education system into homogenous and diverse states still doesn’t explain this country’s low ranking in the world. Even many highly homogenous states (almost entirely white in some cases) don’t necessarily get all that great of results. She mentioned one state (one of the Northeastern states, as I recall) that had about average or slightly below average rankings in international comparisons. Even looking back at the supposed golden age of education during the low immigration mid-20th century doesn’t offer much solace. The U.S. never has had a top ranked grade school education system.

Diversity can’t be used as an excuse (p. 17):

“Other Americans defended their system, blaming the diversity of their students for lackluster results . In his meticulous way, Schleicher responded with data: Immigrants could not be blamed for America’s poor showing. The country would have had the same ranking if their scores were ignored. In fact, worldwide, the share of immigrant children explained only 3 percent of the variance between countries.”

Also, it can’t be blamed on poverty, typically associated with immigrants and minorities. Nor can it be blamed on the public schools where immigrants and minorities are concentrated. Ripley makes this very clear (p. 17):

“A student’s race and family income mattered, but how much such things mattered varied wildly from country to country . Rich parents did not always presage high scores, and poor parents did not always presage low scores. American kids at private school tended to perform better, but not any better than similarly privileged kids who went to public school. Private school did not, statistically speaking, add much value.”

It isn’t a matter of whether or not a country has a diverse population or not, but what one does with the population one has. This relates to spending. More funding of education in itself doesn’t correlate to better results. Instead, it is about how that money is used and if it is used equitably to help all students (p. 160):

“The rest depended on what countries did with the children they had. In the United States, the practice of funding schools based on local property taxes motivated families to move into the most affluent neighborhoods they could afford, in effect buying their way into good schools. The system encouraged segregation.

“Since black, Hispanic, and immigrant kids tended to come from less affluent families , they usually ended up in underresourced schools with more kids like them. Between 1998 and 2010, poor American students had become more concentrated in schools with other poor students.

“The biggest problem with this kind of diversity is that it wasn’t actually diverse. Most white kids had majority white classmates. Black and Hispanic students, meanwhile, were more likely to attend majority black or Hispanic schools in 2005 than they were in 1980.

“Populating schools with mostly low-income, Hispanic, or African-American students usually meant compounding low scores, unstable home lives, and low expectations. Kids fed off each other, a dynamic that could work for good and for ill. In Poland, kids lost their edge as soon as they were tracked into vocational schools; likewise, there seemed to be a tipping point for expectations in the United States. On average, schools with mostly low- income kids systematically lacked the symptoms of rigor. They had inconsistent teaching quality, little autonomy for teachers or teenagers, low levels of academic drive, and less equity. By warehousing disadvantaged kids in the same schools, the United States took hard problems and made them harder.”

Once again, dysfunctional tracking in the U.S. is rooted in a history of systemic and institutional racism. Kids are tracked both in the formal and informal sense. Race and class segregation divide up students, and most of the funding is going to wealthier students and white students. It isn’t necessarily that all that extra funding is being used well by those wealthier school districts, but that the poorest school districts have so little money to use for anything, whether used well or badly. Too much funding isn’t necessarily helpful. Too little funding, however, is obviously problematic.

The discussion in America tends to focus only on the average amount of funding for each American child, all the while ignoring the vast disparity of funding between populations. This is how serious attention on the real issues gets avoided. No one wants to talk about the elephant in the room, the historical inequalities that are continually reinforced, not just inequalities between wealth and poverty but inequalities of political power and real world opportunities, inequalities of racial prejudice and privilege. These are among the most politically incorrect issues in this country.

As all of this shows, there is more going on here than can be understood in the ideological frame of mainstream American politics (pp. 163-164):

“The more time I spent in Finland, the more I started to think that the diversity narrative in the United States— the one that blamed our mediocrity on kids’ backgrounds and neighborhoods— was as toxic as funding inequities . There was a fatalism to the story line, which didn’t mean it was wrong. The United States did have too much poverty; minority students were not learning enough. Parents did matter, and so did health care and nutrition. Obviously.

“But the narrative also underwrote low aspirations, shaping the way teachers looked at their students, just as Vuorinen feared. Since the 1960s, studies have shown that if researchers tested a class and told teachers that certain students would thrive academically in the coming months, teachers behaved differently toward the chosen kids. They nodded more, smiled more, and gave those kids more time to answer questions and more specific feedback.

“In fact, the kids had been chosen at random. The label was fictional, but it stuck. At the end of the school year, teachers still described those students as more interesting, better adjusted, and more likely to be successful in life. As for other kids who had done well in the classroom, but were not chosen? The same teachers described them as less likely to succeed and less likable. The human brain depends on labels and patterns; if a researcher (or cultural narrative) offers teachers a compelling pattern, they will tend to defer to it.

“What did it mean, then, that respected U.S. education leaders and professors in teacher colleges were indoctrinating young teachers with the mindset that poverty trumped everything else? What did it mean if teachers were led to believe that they could only be expected to do so much, and that poverty was usually destiny?

“It may be human nature to stereotype, but some countries systematically reinforced the instinct, and some countries inhibited it. It was becoming obvious to me that rigor couldn’t exist without equity. Equity was not just a matter of tracking and budgets; it was a mindset.

“Interestingly, this mindset extended to special education in Finland, too. Teachers considered most special ed students to have temporary learning difficulties, rather than permanent disabilities. That mindset helped explain why Finland had one of the highest proportions of special education kids in the world; the label was temporary and not pejorative. The Finns assumed that all kids could improve. In fact, by their seventeenth birthday, about half of Finnish kids had received some kind of special education services at some point, usually in elementary school, so that they did not fall farther behind. During the 2009 to 2010 school year, about one in four Finnish kids received some kind of special education services—almost always in a normal school, for only part of the day. (By comparison, about one in eight American students received special education services that year.)”

This isn’t something unique to particular societies. It isn’t as if we must resign ourselves to a lesser fate in the global scheme of things. There is evidence that high education standards can even be achieved demographically diverse groups of students in the United States (p. 218):

“Unlike most schools in America, including the best public charter schools, these new schools were actually diverse, in the literal sense. Moskowitz wanted a true mix of white, Asian, African-American , and Hispanic students at a range of income levels, and she got it. That is how kids learn best— together, with a mix of expectations, advantages, and complications— according to the hard-earned lessons of countries around the world.

“There are stories like this all over the country: Success Academy charter schools in New York City, the closest thing to Finland in the United States; William Taylor, a public-school teacher who has almost Korean expectations for his low-income students in Washington, D.C.; and Deborah Gist in Rhode Island, a leader who has dared to raise the bar for what teachers must know, just like reformers in Finland and Korea.

“These world-class educators exist, but they are fighting against the grain of culture and institutions. That fight drains them of energy and time . If they ever win, it will be because parents and students rose up around them, convinced that our children cannot only handle a rigorous education but that they crave it as never before.”

It isn’t just that we Americans have low expectations of American students, especially poor and minority students. The real problem is we have low expectations for our entire society. We expect failure at a collective level, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

102 thoughts on “America’s Less-Than-Smartest Education System

  1. It’s kind of interesting that Finland has become from one of the poorest nations in Europe to one of the top living standards in a relatively short period of time.

    I think the reason why the Scandinavian nations have the overall highest standard of living (perhaps rivaled by only Japan and the rest of Europe, although a case could be made for Canada and Australia, despite their higher inequality and poverty rates they are “near”), and dominate most measures.

    I find it interesting that the right in the US works so hard to “prove” that these nations cannot succeed. The numbers are a telling story.

    Sadly, that may be changing, and in Sweden inequality is rapidly growing.

    • In the talk, she mentions how Finland didn’t always have a great education system. They closed down their teacher colleges and reopened them all in the best colleges they had in the country.

      She didn’t offer details about how they did it, but apparently it was a complete overhaul. They reinvested entirely into their teachers, something unimaginable in the U.S. where teachers aren’t valued that much.

      History demonstrates that nations on the bottom can in a relatively short period of time can move up through reform. And countries at the top can fall quickly. It all depends on choices made, and sometimes on changing conditions that are beyond our control, but even then we have choices about how to adapt to changing conditions.

      The U.S. does have the advantage of being a dynamic society. We aren’t on the top and neither are we on the bottom. We are diverse and there is strength in that, when it comes to adaptation.

      • There is a fundamental issue you touch on in the US. Teachers are not valued that much. There’s a very similar resentment towards scientists – witness how scientists who present global warming are treated and discussed in the public.

        Europeans generally speaking (and I am generalizing here) are more pro-intellectual. There are certain particulars that I do not always agree with. I feel the anti-nuclear campaign is excessive and not always based on solid scientific evidence for example.

        Asian society too is very pro-education, although one flaw is they over-emphasize on rigid tests. Asian society I think is a bit too authoritarian overall as well. Even within Asian society, that has been criticized for its effect on creativity.

        The US I suppose has “fallen” quickly in the grand scheme of things. Controller of half the world’s wealth in WWII, and by the end of the Cold War, in a position so dominant that no empire before could compare save maybe Ancient Rome or perhaps Ancient China at one of its peaks. Today it seems to stagger from crisis to another.

        The sad thing is the self-inflicted nature of the problems.

        • In the talk, Amanda Ripley mentioned how the issue of intelligence at it relates to creativity. She said that it is common to hear people claim the stereotype that Asians, for example, are intelligent but not creative.

          However, she had her doubts that this was actually the case. In her experience traveling to these countries, these intelligent kids were also creative. They were being taught independent thinking skills, not just rote memory.

          I don’t have enough info at present to know if this is the case. Ripley was mostly looking at PISA scores. It is a newer test that has been widely embraced around the world, but the significance of it is still contested. There is a disagreement about how well it measures creative thinking and innovativeness.

          Anyway, here is what she has to say about it:

          “We told ourselves that we were at least raising more creative children, the kind who might not excel in electrical engineering but who had the audacity to speak up, to invent, and to redefine what was possible. But was there a way to know if we were right?”

          Ripley, Amanda (2013-08-13). The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (p. 6). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

          “In the spring of 2000, a third of a million teenagers in forty-three countries sat down for two hours and took a test unlike any they had ever seen. This strange new test was called PISA, which stood for the Program for International Student Assessment. Instead of a typical test question, which might ask which combination of coins you needed to buy something, PISA asked you to design your own coins, right there in the test booklet.

          “PISA was developed by a kind of think tank for the developed world, called the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the scientist at the center of the experiment was Andreas Schleicher. It had been over a decade since Schleicher had wandered into Postlethwaite’s class. He’d worked on many more tests since then, usually in obscurity. The experience had convinced him that the world needed an even smarter test, one that could measure the kind of advanced thinking and communication skills that people needed to thrive in the modern world.

          .”Other international tests had come before PISA, each with its own forgettable acronym, but they tended to assess what kids had memorized, or what their teachers had drilled into their heads in the classroom. Those tests usually quantified students’ preparedness for more schooling, not their preparedness for life. None measured teenagers’ ability to think critically and solve new problems in math, reading, and science. The promise of PISA was that it would reveal which countries were teaching kids to think for themselves.

          “By December 4, 2001, the results were ready. The OECD called a press conference at the Château de la Muette, the grand Rothschild mansion that served as its headquarters in Paris. Standing before a small group of reporters, Schleicher and his team tried to explain the nuances of PISA.

          ““We were not looking for answers to equations or to multiple choice questions,” he said. “We were looking for the ability to think creatively.”

          “The reporters stirred, restless for a ranking. Eventually he gave them what they wanted . The number-one country in the world was . . . Finland. There was a pause. Schleicher was himself a bit puzzled by this outcome, but he didn’t let it show. “In Finland, everyone does well,” he said, “and social background has little impact.””

          Ripley, Amanda (2013-08-13). The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (pp. 14-16). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

          • Here is a response Amanda Ripley gave to criticism of her book:


            I agree it is critical to be skeptical of PISA—or any test or metric. All have their flaws. Which is why I spent a long time learning about all the various international tests—studying sample questions, reading about their strengths and weaknesses and analyzing their results over time.

            In fact, I used many different data points to decide which countries to feature in the book, including high school graduation rates, college attainment rates, spending per pupil, rankings of national competitiveness and other economic indicators, as well as test data from TIMSS, PIRLS and NAEP.

            As it turns out, international test data is strongly correlated from one test to another. (The correlation between TIMSS 2007 and PISA 2007 was 0.93.) But as you note, there are some differences between PISA and TIMSS findings. In the end, I made a very conscious decision to prioritize PISA findings for two main reasons:

            PISA is a test administered to 15-year-olds, which means it catches kids closer to the end of their compulsory schooling. TIMSS is given to 4th and 8th graders, which is useful, too, but I was most interested in the cumulative effects of countries’ education systems, rather than the midpoint.
            Unlike TIMSS, PISA was designed to test students’ abilities to apply knowledge to solve real-world problems and think for themselves. (TIMSS is a test of school curriculum.) I was most interested in those higher-order thinking skills, since they are increasingly valuable in the modern economy. To see if the hype on PISA was true, I took the test myself, and I found it to be a remarkably sophisticated test.
            You are right that American kids do better on TIMSS, especially in reading. And you are right that many people exaggerate our failings relative to other countries. It drives me nuts. Which is why I went to great lengths throughout the book to avoid such hyperbole.

            I feel weird quoting myself, but just in case you don’t believe me, this is from p. 4: “The vast majority of countries did not manage to educate all their kids to high levels, not even all of their better-off kids. Compared to most countries, the United States was typical, not much better nor much worse…Our elementary students did fine on international tests, thank you very much, especially in reading. The problems arose in math and science, and they became most obvious when our kids grew into teenagers….”

            Anyway, this is a healthy debate to be having, but some things are fairly clear. We now have a lower high-school graduation rate than about 20 other countries. Our young adults perform far below young adults in many other countries, including Finland, especially in numeracy, according to the results of the new PIAAC test (yet another ridiculous acronym!).

            There is no need for alarmism, but there is need for concern. Even our wealthiest teenagers, those in the top quartile of the country based on socioeconomic background, perform 18th in the world on the PISA math test compared to wealthy kids worldwide. And those kids have highly educated parents and attend some of the best resourced school in the world.

            We could do better. We could do worse.

        • Here is some more commentary from Amanda Ripley:

          Wherever I go, from Santiago to Seoul, I am always comforted to hear one consistently positive thing said about Americans: we may not be the wisest or the thinnest people on the planet, but we can think outside of the box! The world will give us that.

          Usually, this assertion is accompanied by a passing reference to Steve Jobs or Google, and no one argues the point. In fact, each year, officials in places like South Korea and Singapore leave their higher performing education systems to come study how we Americans cultivate creativity in our schools and universities. Never mind that the actual Steve Jobs loathed school for much of his childhood. There must be something we are doing right here!

          Today we got a bit more data to put this assumption to the test–through a new, fairly sophisticated test of creative problem-solving administered in 40 countries in by the OECD. This computerized test, a subset of the organization’s larger international exam (known as the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA), attempts to measure how well 15-year-olds can creatively solve realistic, 21st century problems with no obvious, standard solutions.

          Try out a few of the questions here and see for yourself. Personally, I’m not sure this test even begins to measure the important and more operatic aspects of creativity (from optimism to risk-taking), but it is still intriguing. Relative to the vast majority of tests, these questions do seem better designed to assess our abilities to identify patterns, to tolerate doubt and to use intuition and initiative to sort out a workable solution.

          One sample question features a new air conditioner system—one that comes with no instructions. It’s like an IKEA Rorschach test, one that’s all too real for most adults. The unit features three unlabeled controls, as well as a digital display of the current temperature and humidity. The student’s job is to figure out how to work it—interacting with the sliding control knobs on the screen to try to suss out what does what.

          Admittedly, these are probably not the skills that lead to Hollywood stardom (though I look forward to that PISA test…), but they are the kinds of skills that good jobs now demand: the ability to quickly process lots of ambiguous information in order to make a judgment call and act; the skills to adapt when things don’t go the way you expect.

          The results, it turns out, are not entirely demoralizing for the U.S., which is a nice change from other international tests. U.S. teenagers actually do slightly better in problem solving than they do in math, for example, and even a bit higher than other kids from other countries with similarly mediocre math, reading and science skills.

          So we are creative! Right? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, these results do suggest that our teenagers are more creative than they are learned, which is worth something in an era when knowledge is cheap and thinking is priceless.

          Then again, we are not as creative as everyone seems to think—and certainly not exceptionally creative relative to the rest of the world. The Asian education powerhouses trounced us on this test, just as they do in math. Canada, Australia and Finland also scored well above the U.S.

          We rank somewhere between 12 and 21 on the list, around the same level as Italy and Germany. South Korea ranks at the top of the world, up there with Singapore, even though Korean students, parents, teachers and politicians all universally told me that their system stifled creativity—by focusing too much on rote learning and test scores.

          So what to make of it all? For me, the takeaway from these results is that creativity—just like grit—does not occupy a separate sphere from academics. In the best of all worlds, these things interact, and that’s where great innovation happens. After all, all over the world, teenagers who did well on this test also tended to do well on the main PISA test of critical thinking in math, reading and science. They are comfortable identifying connections, building mental models and remaining flexible when things change.

          There is no short cut, in other words. Creativity requires a foundation, one that includes self-discipline, deep learning and the ability to reason—all of which are taught to great effect in rigorous classrooms.

          It may be that Korean students are doing less rote learning than they think—or it may be that they are doing a lot of all kinds of learning. Whatever they are doing, Korea’s system is leaving students—even large numbers of poor students—with remarkably strong higher-order skills, in a wide range of disciplines. (Poland, by contrast, does very well on the main PISA subject tests but worse than the U.S. on this new problem-solving exam, suggesting that the Poles need to work harder to help students transfer academic skills to unfamiliar, real-life problems.)

          For the U.S., our so-so results are neither depressing nor affirming. They suggest that we “do not make the most of student potential in core subjects,” as the OECD analysis puts it, rather politely. If we did make the most of our student potential, imagine what we could do! We could do math and movies, and maybe the next Steve Jobs wouldn’t dread elementary school as much as the first one did.


    Yesterday, PISA released its newest report on the results of a “first-of-its-kind” assessment that sought to measure “creative problem-solving skills” of 15-year-olds. U.S. students scored above average, thought they fared worse than ten of the “44 countries and economies” (now there’s an awkward phrase). Thankfully, the exercise hasn’t occasioned the same spasm of hyperventilation that greeted the release of PISA’s math, science, and reading results a few months back. This time, the muted reaction meant that the hectoring by PISA Overlord Andreas Schleicher was pleasantly dialed down.

    The test defined creative problem-solving as the ability to “understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious.” The report explains, “In modern societies, all of life is problem solving.” Ahh, I see. Thing is, I’m lying when I say that. The whole thing is pretty murky to me. When I survey the questions, they look like a grab bag of cool stuff, and I’m not confident that the folks who boldly cite these findings really know what any of it means. The test is still interesting, and I’m hugely thankful for any assessment that gets us past reading, math, and science and into thinking skills–we just need to be really humble about how much sense we can make out of the findings.

    You can see sample problems here or here. They’re kind of creative and interesting–I’m not sure what they’re actually tapping into, that I trust the grading heuristics, or how much confidence I have that PISA’s psychometricians and test developers have got this “right.” This really isn’t a knock on these highly trained experts. It’s just noting that we’ve seen various standardized assessments breathlessly unveiled over the course of the past century, and many have been later been deemed misguided, goofy, or problematic (we needn’t go back to early IQ tests for examples, just to the previous 21st century revision of the SAT or most 21st century state tests).


    The top-performing Asian countries are known as “pressure-cooker countries,” according to Amanda Ripley, whose recent book, The Smartest Kids In The World, followed American high school students in exchange programs in Finland, Korea and Poland to better understand how those countries’ education systems fare so well on PISA. Korea in particular has an intense culture around tutoring.

    “The big criticism of these systems — the one you hear most often from people within these countries — is that they aren’t teaching kids to think creatively and problem-solve,” Ripley said. “Well, now we have a test that gets closer to measuring those skills than any other — and they are killing it. Again. So what does this mean?”

    Ripley suggested two likely factors. First, critics may be “underestimating just how effective their system is in helping kids think for themselves.” Second, while the exam is probably among the best tools for measuring problem-solving skills, “it probably still is not measuring all the many, many ways in which humans can be creative,” Ripley said.

    The test was taken by 85,000 students who also took the main PISA. They answered questions on computers, solving problems such as finding the most convenient route on a map for three friends who wanted to meet up, or choosing the cheapest train ticket for a certain destination. Across the board, boys were more likely to be higher performers, though average scores did not differ by gender.

    The OECD used scores on the main PISA test to estimate how students in various countries would fare. U.S. students beat the estimate by 10 points. According to the report, the higher performance “may indicate” that students’ learning opportunities prepare them for dealing with real-life challenges.

    “We did 10 points better than we were expected to do — but it’s 10 points out of 508, not a whole lot better than we were expected to do,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president for the American Institutes of Research who previously led the U.S. Education Department’s research arm. “It’s statistically significant, but they don’t talk about the degree to which it’s substantively significant.”

    OECD noted that U.S. students “perform significantly better in problem solving, on average, than students in other countries who show similar performance in mathematics, reading and science.” Still, 18.2 percent of U.S. students — or one in six — performed below the baseline level.

    Results for the general PISA test reported in late 2013 showed the U.S. performed mid-pack.

    To some extent, the scores reflected socioeconomic status, with higher-income students besting their lower-income peers. That pattern held true internationally. According to a Huffington Post analysis, even America’s top 10 percent of students by wealth generally didn’t outperform wealthy peers in other countries. According to OECD, socioeconomic status played less of a role in determining competence in problem-solving skills than math chops.

    “The impact of socioeconomic background on problem-solving skills is smaller than what we observed in mathematics and reading or in science,” Zoido said. “We see socioeconomic status playing less of a role in problem-solving than in other domains.”


    TES understands from another source that writing and speaking, musical and visual skills, and student curiosity are among a number of other new assessment areas also being considered.

    Mr Schleicher said that the demand for assessing “global competencies” was coming from a “broad range of countries” in Asia, northern Europe and South America.

    “To help students get work around the world is (an important part) of it but also to live in increasingly heterogeneous societies,” he told TES in an exclusive interview. “Migration is posing huge challenges for most countries, both from the people who migrate but also from the people who have to accommodate (them). How do you actually take benefit out of that? Diversity is not a problem of a knowledge economy but actually its greatest potential.”

    Asked exactly what might be tested, Mr Schleicher said: “Foreign languages is the most obvious part but also the capacity of individuals to engage in different value systems, the capacity of individuals to make sound judgements… Can you deal with uncertainty? Can you deal with ambiguity?”

    OECD member countries are also understood to be thinking of adding students’ ethical conduct, creativity and reasoning to categories measured by Pisa.

    The ideas have been welcomed by teaching unions but others are concerned that the OECD is being overambitious.

    Sheila Lawlor, director of UK thinktank Politeia, said: “Trying to measure things like creativity and so on with a huge cohort from a range of backgrounds is not a sensible task and is a waste of money. It can’t be done.

    “A huge testing juggernaut like Pisa should not go off on a tangent trying to measure airy-fairy notions like curiosity. It should concentrate on what can be identified – the basics of essential subjects.”

    Since the first Pisa study in 2000, its tests, run every three years, have concentrated on assessing the ability of students from different countries in the traditional academic areas of reading, maths and science.

    But now the OECD is adding more “21st-century skills”, which cut across conventional subjects and which Mr Schleicher claims that schools have not traditionally excelled in.

    Pisa 2012 – the results of which will be published later this year – added a problem-solving test and Mr Schleicher is confident that after some “very promising” pilots a collaborative problem-solving assessment will follow in 2015. Next, he told TES, will come “global competencies”.

    “We do not yet know how to build a robust assessment framework around it but it is something we are going to work on,” Mr Schleicher said. “You need to bring out a methodology for this. You need to make sure that those things are measured in a way that is comparable across cultures (and) contexts.”

    The OECD official has been described by England’s education secretary Michael Gove as “the most important man in world education”. But his latest proposals could be at odds with Mr Gove’s reforms, which emphasise traditional subject knowledge.

    Mr Schleicher cited Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Norway and Sweden as countries that were interested in the proposed assessments.

    John Bangs, chair of the OECD’s education trade union advisory committee, said: “It is a wholly positive development that countries are at last thinking out of the box about what defines successful education. It could challenge governments in countries like England to look at their own school league tables and say, ‘are we missing something when we evaluate the quality of education?’.”

    Mr Schleicher said that 21st-century skills would assume a greater relative importance within Pisa as the labour market valued them more: “If we do find that problem-solving skills are a more important predictor for success in life than reading and maths then we are going to give it more emphasis.”

    Schools had not been good at teaching such skills, he claimed. “Look at what schools do – they use multiple choice tests and what can you test in multiple choice? It is the reproduction of subject matter and content. That is precisely what computers are much better at.

    “Basically, the kinds of things that schools are traditionally best at (are) losing labour market relevance very quickly.”


    The Numbers Don’t Lie, but Some Are Missing: Two Paradigms of Education

    The fact the U.S. as a nation is still standing despite of its abysmal standing on international academic tests for over half a century begs two questions:

    Is education as important to a nation’s national security and economy as important as believed?

    If it is, are the numbers telling the truth about the quality of education in the U.S. and other nations?

    If the answer to the first question is “no,” we need to disconnect the automatic association between test scores and education. In other words, the numbers don’t really measure education, at least not the entire picture of the education needed to produce citizens to build strong and prosperous economies.

    In my latest book World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students[33], I identified two paradigms of education: employee-oriented and entrepreneur-oriented. The employee-oriented paradigm aims to transmit a prescribed set of content (the curriculum and standards) deemed to be useful for future life by external authorities, while the entrepreneur-oriented aims to cultivate individual talents and enhance individual strengths. The employee-oriented paradigm produces homogenous, compliant, and standardized workers for mass employment while the entrepreneurial-oriented education encourages individuality, diversity, and creativity.

    Although in general, all mainstream education systems in the world currently follows the employee-oriented paradigm, some may not be as effectively and successfully as others. The international test scores may be an indicator of how successful and effective the employee-oriented education has been executed. In other words, these numbers are measures of how successful the prescribed content has been transmitted to all students. But the prescribed content does not have much to do with an already industrialized country such as the U.S., whose economy relies on innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. As a result, although American schools have not been as effective and successful in transmitting knowledge as the test scores indicate, they have somehow produced more creative entrepreneurs, who have kept the country’s economy going. Moreover, it is possible that on the way to produce those high test scores, other education systems may have discouraged the cultivation of the creative and entrepreneurial spirit and capacity.

    Unfortunately there are few numbers that directly provide the same kind of comparison as TIMSS and PISA on measures of creativity and entrepreneurship, making it difficult to forcefully prove that American education indeed produce more creative and entrepreneurial talents. A piece of data I have found from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor study suggests a significant negative relationship between PISA performance and indicators of entrepreneurship. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, or GEM, is an annual assessment of entrepreneurial activities, aspirations, and attitudes of individuals in more than 50 countries. Initiated in 1999, about the same time that PISA began, GEM has become the world’s largest entrepreneurship study. Thirty-nine countries that participated in the 2011 GEM also participated in the 2009 PISA, and 23 out of the 54 countries in GEM are considered “innovation-driven” economies, which means developed countries.

    Comparing the two sets of data shows clearly countries that score high on PISA do not have levels of entrepreneurship that match their stellar scores. More importantly, it seems that countries with higher PISA scores have fewer people confident in their entrepreneurial capabilities. Out of the innovation-driven economies, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are among the best PISA performers, but their scores on the measure of perceived capabilities or confidence in one’s ability to start a new business are the lowest. The correlation coefficients between scores on the 2009 PISA in math, reading, and science and 2011 GEM in “perceived entrepreneurial capability” in the 23 developed countries are all statistically significant[34].

    Anecdotally, Vivek Wadhwa, president of Academics and Innovation at Singularity University, Fellow at Stanford Law School and Director of Research at Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, wrote in Business Week in response to the latest PISA rankings:

    The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms, and take risks. They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation; why Chinese and Indians invest their life savings to send their children to expensive U.S. schools when they can. India and China are changing, and as the next generations of students become like American ones, they too are beginning to innovate. So far, their education systems have held them back.[35]

    But there again are no numbers to prove these. However, other countries, particularly the high scoring Asian countries have all been reforming their education systems to be more like that in the U.S., as I have discussed in my book Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization[36].


    I have put forth a lot of numbers of different sorts from a variety of sources. Taken together, these numbers suggest to me the following:

    So far all international test scores measure the extent to which an education system effectively transmits prescribed content.

    In this regard, the U.S. education system is a failure and has been one for a long time.

    But the successful transmission of prescribed content contributes little to economies that require creative and entrepreneurial individual talents and in fact can damage the creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Thus high test scores of a nation can come at the cost of entrepreneurial and creative capacity.

    While the U.S. has failed to produce homogenous, compliant, and standardized employees, it has preserved a certain level of creativity and entrepreneurship. In other words, while the U.S. is still pursuing an employee-oriented education model, it is much less successful in stifling creativity and suppressing entrepreneurship.

    The U.S. success in creativity and entrepreneurship is merely an accidental by product of a less successful employee-oriented education, which is far from sufficient to meet the coming challenges brought about by globalization and technological changes. Thus in a sense, the U.S. education is in turmoil, inadequate, and obsolete, but it has to move toward more entrepreneur-oriented instead of more employee-oriented.

    • There is one point that this author seems to be missing.

      The U.S. is an immigrant nation. Take GenX for example. It was the smallest native born population of any living generation, but because of high immigration rates it is as large as the Boomer generation.

      The U.S. attracts many people, including students, from countries that have better education systems. Also, immigrants to the U.S. tend to come from a higher economic class and so be generally more well educated.

      If the U.S. stopped immigration, our IQ rate and innovation scores would tank in a single generation. Our country and economy is dependent upon siphoning off the best and brightest from other countries. The same goes for Canada.

        • I’m not saying there aren’t also low IQ immigrants.

          But even in that case illegal immigrants have to be among the most highly motivated people in the world to make it to the US. The most lazy and most low IQ people stayed back in their home countries. Immigration, even illegal immigration, tends to offer the best from a country.

          If you look at Hispanics, they have higher rates of such things as work ethic, what WASPs claim to value. Many of these immigrants are willing to do what it takes to be successful. Immigrants are the only part of the population that takes the American Dream seriously. Poor illegal immigrants are still going to be of a higher quality than poor native-born Americans, at least in terms of the values of mainstream America.

          Anyway, illegal immigrants from Latin America aren’t most immigrants to the US, despite what Fox News may claim.


    The U.S. can’t seem to catch a break when dealing with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). First there are the PISA tests, on which the mediocre showing by American students are well-documented. To add insult to injury, the OECD’s first-ever “Measuring Innovation in Education” report has U.S. schools ranking near the bottom, above only New Zealand, Austria and the Czech Republic. The U.S. country summary praises the use of assessments as one of the top innovations. Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, couldn’t help but note the irony.


    Ripley seems to realize toward the end that she put too much faith in the PISA as a measure of creativity and critical thinking, a controversial issue among experts. Upbeat statements about the test tend to disappear later in the book. What the PISA is measuring is probably not creativity. If you believe the exam does capture that elusive quality, then you have to accept the notion that it can be pounded into students as is done in South Korea.

    One thing the PISA almost certainly assesses is how much students know. In countries that want them to learn about the world, students get higher scores. They need that command of content, as educators put it, or they won’t have anything to be creative about.

    Ripley rightly concludes that we need “a serious intellectual culture in schools.” But watch cable news, eavesdrop in a student cafeteria or attend a local PTA meeting, and you will see that such a culture is something that so far doesn’t interest us much.


    Here are three lessons from The Smartest Kids in the World that apply in business as well as education:

    1. We need to aim higher.

    In the United States, the average eighth-grade math class teaches content targeted to kids learning at a sixth- and seventh-grade level, while eighth-grade classes in the highest-performing countries teach math at the ninth-grade level. What’s more, mathematical teaching methods in America, as a whole, have failed to evolve. Kids here often learn to approach math the same way they have for decades, whereas kids abroad may be given math strategies that are not only more advanced, but also more creative and connected to the ways they use math in everyday life.

    In fact, as a culture, the U.S. may not place a terribly high value on math, Ripley notes. She cites a 2009 study of American parents that found most believed “it was more important to finish high school with strong reading and writing skills than with strong math and science skills.” Additionally, while most of those surveyed believed kids could improve at reading “through hard work and good teaching,” math was “considered more of an innate ability, like being double-jointed.” So if our kids lack the motivation and drive to overcome obstacles while learning math, we may have only our own attitudes to blame.

    2. We need to attract and retain better talent.

    Countries that have made the quickest and most cost-effective improvements in their education systems started by overhauling how they recruit, train and pay teachers. By making it more difficult, not easier, to become a teacher – compelling educators to attend highly selective education schools, for example – as well as more prestigious, and offering higher salaries, school systems are able to attract talent of a higher-caliber, raising the quality of the entire teaching corps.

    In one striking anecdote, Ripley describes an Oklahoma high school math teacher who admitted to having chosen that profession only because he wanted to be a football coach. In order to coach, he said, he had to pick something to teach, so he rolled the dice and picked math – never mind that he had a low aptitude for the subject and equally low scores on teacher training tests. This fellow may be a fine football coach, but he’s probably not doing much to inspire his students to excel at math.

    3. It’s not too late to commit to improvement.

    Ripley suggests that all is not lost academically for America’s next generation. The educational systems she cites as successful examples have made great strides in only the last decade. By following their example, she contends, our schools can turn out “smart” kids – with the skills to compete and succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy — too.

    • I’m in college as an undergrad, and frankly the education major is commonly considered a joke. It’s one of the majors you pick if you don’t wanna work too hard. Maybe that’s a problem.

      A good friend of mine is an elementary education major though, and she’s naturally talented with children, and throughout her school years was a top student.

      • ALso, as an aside, at my college at least, you could sleep through the classes and pass just by cramming everything in before the tests. That’s how I passed a psychology course, actually. So you might not actually have absorbed much knowledge in psychology, or pedagogy, or whatever.

      • I’m glad this particular issue caught your attention. Some people argue that a major and maybe the central problem is the quality of the teacher. If good pay attracts the best people and if a high quality teaching program trains them, the education system will be transformed from within. Trying to change the system without changing teachers and teaching just leads to superficial and bureaucratic changes. It isn’t about necessarily spending more money on education, but specifically spending more money on teachers.

        • As an aside, we know that education majors tend to be underachievers relative to other majors in terms of sat and other things. I see this stuff in terms of achievement rather than “intelligence” though. Ex: I see high sat and GPA students as more academically serious, not necessarily smarter. But the fact that the education major is filled with relatively low academic achieves concerns me.

          This is me and I know I already discussed it. But I think, if you want to be a math teacher, you should get a math degree, not a math education degree. Then you go to grad school and train as a teacher. I think we should get rid of the undergrad secondary-education degree.

          Still, what about elementary schools?


    In an article in Talking Points Memo, Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, contends that poverty is not, in fact, the problem holding back American school-children from parity with peer nations in tests like the Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA), an OECD-sponsored test of academic skills administered to fifteen-year-olds in major countries nationwide. Despite a child-poverty rate of 22%, she asserts, American school-children are better off economically than many of their global peers, have more money spent on education than many of these peers, and–perhaps most damning–under-perform even at the highest economic echelons of American society (undermining the idea that America’s high rate of poverty is what causes it to lag behind in educational statistics.)

    While I would agree that simply blaming poverty for American shortfalls on PISA tests is an overly broad explanation for a nuanced problem, to discount the influence of socio-economics on education–which seems to be the over-riding point of Ripley’s article–seems equally short-sighted. I’m no statistician, and moreover, one could clearly write a book on this subject (indeed Ripley has). But I want to raise some points for consideration (if not complete rebuttals) here:

    – On the domestic level, income is the single strongest correlate to academic success in the United States, as measured on standardized tests such as the SAT. Keeping in mind the embarrassingly high rate of child poverty in America as a developed country, ruling out poverty as a factor in America’s lag behind comparatively wealthy countries seems implausible.

    – Towards that end, the USA (unlike some peer-nations) has compulsory K-12 (roughly ages 5-18) education. The reality is that in countries where K-12 education is not mandatory, many students who are discouraged or prevented from attending school past a certain point would have ended up comprising the lower percentiles on any achievement test.

    – American education offers an insufficiently broad array of options for academic tracks (college-for-all is still the prevailing philosophy), which has at least two effects I can think of on American students’ achievement compared to countries that do offer career-tech or vocational tracks: (1) A more heterogeneous group of students in America would be taking the PISA, whereas in a peer-country offering alternative options to a college-prep track, similar students may have been “tracked” away from such exams (a form of cherry-picking, no doubt, but one that I’d bet exists); (2) More career-tech or vocational tracks, targeted to interested students, could possibly engage recalcitrant students stuck in a college-prep track, enabling them to more meaningfully learn the skills tested on the PISA.

    – But, to Ripley’s point that even America’s wealthiest kids do comparatively poorly on tests like the PISA when ranked against their global GPD-peer nations (and, as several commenters asserted when I talked about this months ago, to the extent that it actually even matters), I offer my belief that American culture is marked by a lower valuation of education in recent years, as seen in disdainful attitudes towards the teaching profession, prevalence of using social media over print-reading as an activity for youngsters, and an overall culture of diminished student accountability for one’s own education outcome.

    • It seems to me that few people commenting on issues like education have spent much time looking other areas of social science, including poverty.

      What the research shows is that it isn’t necessarily or merely poverty that is problematic. More central is economic inequality which gets magnified by the issue of poverty. Also, in the US, this correlates to low economic mobility, high unemployment, institutional racism, and a whole host of social problems. The US has one of the lowest economic mobility rates and one of the highest economic inequality rates in the West and among the most developed countries outside the West.

      Few people have really looked into the connections between all of these. Most people focus on their favorite topic such as education without looking at the larger picture of data.

      • Income isn’t necessarily stronger than race. Income is inseparable from race, at least in the US.

        I’ve never seen any data showing that wealthier blacks score lower on IQ tests than poor whites. But even if that was the case, that would just further demonstrated the extensiveness and persistence of racism that blacks cannot escape, as endless studies show.

        Plus, there is the economic segregation that correlates with racial segregation. Poor whites tend not to be as isolated in poverty as poor blacks. That means there are more poor whites than poor blacks living in wealthier communities. Even middle class blacks tend to be more racially segregated, which effects the resources available to them and their children.


    Specifically, problem solving is a difficult area. As stated in the article, the creativity and open-ended thinking that American education inspires in its students should have proved much more efficient in the PISA test. A good part of problem solving is about thinking the steps through and understanding the problem at hand. But it also consists of understanding certain formulas and patterns that these problems will follow, a concept that isn’t so focused on in the American system. Students certainly have the ability to approach a problem, but they may not know exactly what they’re dealing with right off the bat. The drilling repetition that the Asian method brings to the table helps students instantly recognize what they need to do. Learning programs bring a middle point to problem solving, between the rigidity of Asia and the critical thinking aspect in the United States.


    Since 2008, China has worked to transform its educational system from one that rewarded memorization and paperwork, to one that develops students’ higher-order thinking skills. We saw students working in teams and engaged in research projects.

    The schools that we visited are educating students to become leaders in a global society. All students learn English. Many take Advanced Placement courses and the International Baccalaureate exam. They are preparing for top universities in Australia, Great Britain and the United States as well as China.

    The teaching profession is highly respected in China. Teachers go through rigorous training, and they are mentored by retired educators. In recent years, China has hired many American-born teachers. They have helped China develop a more student-centered approach to education.

    The Chinese set high educational aspirations, and their children are meeting that bar.

    The recently released results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that Chinese 15-year-olds scored better than students from any other country in reading, math and science. U.S. students, by comparison, placed 24th in reading, 28th in science and 36th in math.

      • I do think the quality of an education system hinges on the quality of teachers and hence the qualaity of teacher training. That would require major reform in a country like the US where teachers aren’t even valued.

        First, there would need to be a change in public opinion. We can only improve education if we want to improve it. It isn’t yet clear that most Americans want a better education system, or at least it isn’t clear that most American leaders want an American citizenry that isn’t ignorant.

        • What does a quality teacher mean to you, and how would you identify them? Do you feel comfortable with seeing the fact that people who go into American education tend to have lower academic grades and scores, or is it much more?

          What do you think of the colleges of education and education undergrad programs in the us?

          • In Finland, the teachers are supposedly both well trained and given great freedom in how they teach. This would require teachers have a large set of knowledge and skills to draw upon. Also, this would require teachers are trained to analyze problems and be able to think innovatively. In order to get this kind of teacher, what is needed is that the highest intelligent, the most creative, and hardest working people in the entire population are drawn to the teaching profession. In the countries with high quality education systems, there is high competition for the teaching field and teachers are paid extremely well.

            I’m not familiar with the colleges of education and education undergrad programs in the US. So, I can’t speak about any of it. I can only speak of my own direct experience and whatever I glean from talking to my mother’s experience from the teaching profession.

          • What do you mean by intelligence though, since you’re not a fan of “gifted” and dislike obsession with iq?

            The high achievers are not necessarily the gifted iq ones. As the parents complain about all day, that underachieving is a problem in gifted kiddos…and even adults

            Maybe we should set high standards for teachers and pay them well rather than the shitty pacer give them. Even graduate degrees don’t necessarily mean good teacher. The one phd teacjer at my high school was a shitty teacher and huge creeper who loved looking down girls’ boobs. He was actually recently arrested for child porn :/


    For me, the OECD analysis of time spent in classrooms indicates an ongoing need to focus on improving and even transforming our education systems and schools – not abandoning them. The OECD report itself concluded, ‘The amount of time spent in school is much less important than how the available time is spent and on which subject, what methods of teaching and learning are used, how strong the curriculum is, and how good the teachers are’.

    Interestingly, the OECD’s analysis also indicates that our capacity to measure the full range of the results achieved in schools and by students is, as yet, incomplete.

    No one would argue that the core knowledge and skills of literacy, numeracy and science aren’t important components of school education but they are not the entirety of what we aspire to for our children. The Melbourne Declaration emphasises that students should become confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens as well as successful learners.

    Part of the reason that Australia and other countries require a higher number of hours in school is to enable teachers and communities to focus on broad learning goals. The outcomes of such learning can be less amenable to objective measurement than areas like English, maths and science, but this doesn’t mean qualities of character, creativity and communication are of lesser value.


    What we could learn from Poland is this: The country’s schools once
    were in the dumps. But Poland started using standardized tests to
    assess students, elevated academic rigor, wouldn’t accept poverty as
    an excuse and gave local schools more autonomy.

    None of those reforms were put into place easily, but over time
    Poland’s scores went up. That includes on the PISA exam, which the
    Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development administers. The exam focuses on applying classroom knowledge to real world problems.

    There certainly is a Texas element to this story about Poland’s
    success. As this newspaper reported this week, the state has a
    troubling number of high school students who have failed one or more
    end-of-course exams. As an example, 182,000 students have yet to
    pass last year’s English I writing exam. They get one more chance to do so this month.

    The question is, what should we do about perennially failing students? Or ones who just keep struggling?

    By raising this, I don’t mean more tests. The Legislature has made it clear they aren’t interested in additional end-of-course exams.

    Rather, how shall the state respond to a large number of students who
    are behind? And how can the state keep students in the future from ending up in the same spot, assuming they don’t have learning disabilities that keep them behind?

    Poland’s answer is you don’t give up on kids. It faced enormous
    poverty after suffering through decades of deprivation under the reign
    of communism. But it didn’t accept the notion that kids born into
    poverty couldn’t meet higher academic standards.

    Amanda Ripley, author of “The Smartest Kids in the World,” noted in a recent Point Person interview that “Of all the changes Polish officials made, the one that seemed to matter most was that they held all students to more rigorous academic standards for a longer time period.”

    In other words, they didn’t lowball expectations, even though plenty of students were struggling. Polish authorities even tried to get more kids out of our equivalent of vocational education.

    Of course, raising expectations requires adequate resources to help teachers best reach students. The Texas Legislature must make sure that it spends smartly but adequately on students. But as Ripley also noted, Poland spends about half of what U.S. schools spend on their students. So, money alone is not the answer.

    And Poland isn’t the only nation to do better while raising expectations. “Globally, the longer students stay together in demanding classes,” Ripley observed, “the better the whole country seems to do.”


    But with little education technology in the classroom, Finnish students have repeatedly outperformed American students on international tests. In 2001, Finland’s students were the highest-achieving in the world, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment test administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

    The Nordic country uses innovative teaching strategies in the classroom, just generally without incorporating technology. Private schools and charter schools aren’t part of the mix, and all education is essentially free. Powerful teachers unions work hand in hand with the government, which went to great lengths to revamp teacher training. The profession is revered and respected, and government has no bearing on assessing a teacher’s performance in the classroom.


    The teachers unions work closely and collaboratively with government. Children attend the school closest to home unless they’re looking for something extra, like a school that teaches German. There are no standardized tests until upper secondary students have to demonstrate their knowledge on the country’s matriculation exam. Passing the exam allows a student to go on to university studies.

    Finland is also renowned for its teacher training system, which requires all teachers to finish five to six years of schooling and earn a master’s degree before starting their careers. Preschool and kindergarten teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree. The profession is considered one of the most honorable careers to choose from.

    In the U.S., school choice is one of the most contentious topics in education. The federal Education Department is requiring states to tie student growth determined by standardized test scores to teacher evaluations and personnel decisions. Students take standardized tests in grades three through eight. And some would argue that it’s too easy to become a teacher.


    Do educators’ perceptions of how disadvantaged their students are matter? Put another way, when teachers think their students are underprivileged, do they have lower expectations for them, and do their students achieve less at school?

    In a July 22, 2014, article “Poverty and the perception of poverty – how both matter for schooling outcomes,” Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), argues that perceptions often matter more than reality, with distressing consequences. He found that principals in some countries vastly overestimate the poverty level of their students, and their perception of disadvantage negatively correlates with student math achievement. That is, the greater the misperception of poverty, the more likely it is for 15-year-old students’ math scores to be predicted by their actual socio-economic status, and the harder it is for disadvantaged students at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder to score among the top students.

    “In countries like France and the United States, perceived disadvantage is far greater than real disadvantage, and it makes a significant difference for student performance,” Schleicher wrote in the article.

    Conversely, he found that educators in many top-performing nations greatly underestimate how disadvantaged their students are. Yet the truly disadvantaged students in these nations are more likely to score in the top tier on the PISA math test.


    An interesting observation that anyone interested in what current high-performing school systems have in common is that they all, some more than the others, have derived critical lessons from abroad. Singapore, one of the most successful reformers and highest performers in global education, has been sending students to study education in U.S. universities and encouraged university professors to collaborate in teaching and research with their American colleagues. Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea have done the same. More recently China has also benefited from education innovation from the United States and other Western education systems. Even those running school systems above the 49th parallel in North America admit that U.S. research and innovation have been instrumental in making education in Canada world-class.

    Finland is no exception. If you want to discover the origins of the most successful practices in pedagogy, student assessment, school leadership, and school improvement in Finland, you only need to visit some schools there and have a conversation with teachers and principals. Most of them have studied psychology, teaching methods, curriculum theories, assessment models, and classroom management researched and designed in the United States in their initial teacher education programs. Primary school teacher education syllabi in Finnish universities include scores of books and research articles written by U.S. scholars. Professional development and school improvement courses and programs often include visitors from the U.S. universities to teach and work with Finnish teachers and leaders. So common is the reliance on U.S. ideas in Finland that some have come to call the Finnish school system a large-scale laboratory of American education innovation.

    The relatively low overall rating of “innovation in education” in the United States raises an interesting question: Where are all those great ideas in the United States that other countries have been able to utilize to improve the performance of their school systems during the last century? It is interesting that, according to the OECD, the United States exhibits only modest innovation in its education system but, at the same time, it is the world leader in producing research, practical models and innovation to other countries.


    In my quest to understand the value of the Finnish practice, I stumbled upon the work of Anthony Pellegrini—author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development and emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota—who has praised this approach for more than a decade. In East Asia—where most primary schools give their students a 10-minute break after 40 minutes or so of classroom instruction—Pellegrini observed the same phenomenon that I had witnessed at my Finnish school. After these shorter recesses, students appeared to be more attentive in the classroom.

    Not satisfied with anecdotal evidence alone, Pellegrini and his colleagues ran a series of experiments at a public elementary school to explore the relationship between recess timing and attentiveness in the classroom. In every one of the experiments, students were more attentive after a break than before a break. They also found that the children were less attentive when the timing of the break was delayed—or in other words, when the lesson dragged on.

    In Finland, primary school teachers seem to know this intuitively. They send kids outside—rain or shine—for their frequent recesses. And the children get to decide how they spend their break times. Usually, teachers in Finland take turns—two at a time—supervising the playground during these 15-minute stints.

    Although I favor the Finnish model, I realize that unleashing fifth graders on the playground every hour would be a huge shift for most schools. According to Pellegrini, breaks don’t have to be held outdoors to be beneficial. In one of his experiments at the public elementary school, students had their recess times inside the school and the results matched those of other experiments where students took their breaks outside: After their breaks, the children were more attentive in class.

    What’s most important is not where kids take breaks but how much freedom we give them from their structured work. When break times are teacher-directed, Pellegrini found, the recess loses its value. It’s free-play that gives students the opportunity to develop social competence. During these times, they not only rest and recharge—they also learn to cooperate, communicate, and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well as in life.


    The Australian government has invested hundreds of millions into programs like Fast Forward to reach low-income, first-generation and rural students and their parents. Essentially anyone who wants to go to university can do so through a number of alternative pathways — even if he or she has done poorly in high school or dropped out. Universities have been required to increase supports for these students — to get them in and then to graduate them.

    The result is that Australia does a better job than the United States at graduating first-generation and low-income students. In fact, Australia is one of the leaders among developed countries in social mobility, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Of adults aged 25-34, 40 percent of Australians whose parents did not earn a college degree have one themselves. Although the numbers are slightly inflated due to how international students are measured (and Australia has many of them), that’s double the OECD average. In the United States, according to the OECD, just 14 percent of those comparable first-generation students graduate from college.

    Australia also has more success with low-income students. About 30 percent of Australian students who are in the lowest socio-economic quintile (based on a variety of factors including where they live) enroll in a university, according to the Longitudinal Study of Australian Youth. Based on historical graduation rates, nearly a fifth of this quintile will earn a degree, according to estimates from the government-funded National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. By contrast, just 20 percent of low-income students who start college in the United States will stick with it through graduation — or 8 percent of all those in the bottom income quartile, according to research by Iowa-based Postsecondary Education Opportunity.

    In all, Australia enrolls about 630,000 students in its 37 universities. Only three of those universities are private, which means the government can play a major hand in shaping policy.

    For decades, the government has provided a student loan and repayment program where students only have to pay back the loan when their income hits a certain level. And the average cost of a year at a university in Australia is about $7,700 (U.S.), about $1,000 cheaper than in-state public school tuition in the United States. Most Australians go to school in their state and live at home, avoiding room and board fees.

    Australia increased its focus on diversifying higher education in 2008 when a federally commissioned report known as the Bradley Review highlighted the inequities in the system. It called for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds to make up 20 percent of higher education students by 2020. (In 2008, it was 16.3 percent.)

    The Obama administration has called for the United States to lead the world in the percentage of college graduates by 2020, but has not specified how that should occur or how many low-income students should be a part of that. Right now, the country enrolls about 11 million students in thousands of universities. Some states are now tying funding to performance at public universities and colleges but there is no systematic way universities are held accountable for any national enrollment or graduation goals.

    In Australia, each university was required to sign a compact with the government detailing how its own targets and plans contribute to the government’s goals on higher education. In 2011, each school was given nearly $95 million (AUD) to try to meet these goals and up to $32.5 million more for doing so. All universities were also promised a share of $946 million over five years — from the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP) — to create programs catering to disadvantaged students. (In mid-April 2014, the Australian dollar was valued at $0.93 U.S.)

  19. A lot of work you’ve put into this. Kudos!

    Hmm… so summarizing:

    1. American technical education is largely lacking.

    2. However, the US does relatively well when it comes to “creative” thinking, but not quite as much as it thinks. Canada, Australia, and Finland do better.

    3. The Finnish system appears to be THE best way to do education.

    4. Recess and breaks are a net gain for productivity and creativity. They also allow students to focus more.

    5. America students are falling deeply into debt to fund their education and loans are not very generous. I know in Canada (and I graduated last year), loans are quite generous – low interest rates, no excess fees, and factoring in inflation, probably a money loser for the banks.

    Australia appears to have a similar system in place.

    6. The East Asian system is not as stifling as it seems, although the pressure on students to succeed is immense.

    7. Inequality is a serious drag on the ability to effectively educate the population.

    A system where everyone does well regardless of social background seems to be the best in terms of outcomes for society.

    Poverty ins a serious problem and blaming poor scores when poverty is the real problem is a common culprit.

    8. Attracting very highly skilled immigrants is important to a nation’s well being. Closed off cultures may do poorly in this regard. This is probably a boost for Canada, the US, NZ, and Australia especially.

    Hmm, I wonder how well the Canadian education system does. Probably somewhat better than the American, but still needs a lot of room for improvement.

    • A useful summary you provided. I sometimes just do an information dump, as above with all those articles. But I appreciate summarizing. It takes effort to summarize.

      As for the summarized items:

      I really like the information about recesses. I’ve recently looked at data on free play. It appears to be extremely important for childhood development, in terms of cognitive development and other behaviors. The research in that area is fascinating.

      I’m not sure how easy it is to compare to the East Asian countries. They are so different in so many ways. The exclusion of part of the population from the education data is problematic. However, the pressure cooker model works in those societies for the part of the population that is included. It makes one wonder how the East and West shall compete in the future with these differences.

      The issues of poverty and inequality are among the most important in my mind. If we can’t get that part right, all else will be to that degree more challenging to deal with. In a former slave society like the US, these issues take on a more central role. The US, in this regards, is closer in comparison to many of the non-Western countries.

      The strength of the US is immigration and diversity. If we want to succeed and to overcome our weaknesses, we best not forget our main strength. The Canadian gets much of the good from immigration and diversity, without all the negatives of past slavery.

  20. To be honest, I am not optimistic about Canada’s performance either save in one metric – the percentage of people who have completed post-secondary university-level education, which probably compares favorably with the rest of the world.

    The other scores, I am not expecting Canada to do very well in.

    There are other issues than education that may work for/against certain nations.

    1. East Asian nations generally have a much longer term view about society than Western nations, particularly compared to the Anglo world. That could be a serious issue in the long run.

    Witness the results of outsourcing for example:

    Speaking of which, aircraft is one of the few areas that America takes pride in that it still builds … perhaps such pride is increasingly misplaced it would seem.

    There is also much greater funding for things like infrastructure and R&D, although the unique culture of East Asian research may be an impediment.

    By the way, Eamonn Fingleton is one of those people that I feel has often “gotten it right”.

    2. Western nations generally are less authoritarian. That could be an important advantage. Going abroad, other societies tend to be much more hierarchical and questioning authority is actively silenced.

    Perhaps I am giving too much credit though to the West in this regard, it depends on the organization. It’s a generalization.

    3. Western nations generally allow more immigration. That may be changing. Look for example at what is happening in Japan. It is a very homogenous culture and hostile to external influences, but is slowly changing.

    4. A unique problem to the US is the anti-intellectual atmosphere. To be sure, there are anti-intellectuals everywhere, but in no other Western nation do they have so much influence.

    It’s hard to say how this will end up.

  21. Come to think of it, maybe a summary of these findings would make a decent post.

    There are other problems these days. Employers are not willing to train employees for example.

    • It probably would. But I don’t know if I’m in the mood to do it. I always have a thousand blog posts in my mind that I want to write. If I didn’t have to hold down a job to pay the bills, I would get around to writing more of them.

      • No pressure.

        I am currently looking for work (took some time off to study for my professional exam), but yeah it is hard to hold down a day job and have time for a lot of things.

          • A practical field. I assume you should never want for work in a society like ours. Whether for government or businesses, accountants serve a necessary function.

            I also work in a practical field. I’m a parking ramp cashier. But it turns out not to be all that necessary or won’t be for long. Humans are being replaced by technology.

            Give it time. Even accountants will eventually be replaced. There really is no limit to what technology could potentially do. The future will be interesting.

            I wonder what we will do as a society when the vast majority of humans no longer serve a practical purpose. Even most management jobs will be eliminated by technology. I like to imagine roving gangs of unemployed managers looking for unemployed workers to manage.

  22. Also, on that note, do you think that things will get worse?

    There is less and less money as a percentage of the total budget being allocated to education overall.

    The debt statistics are pretty grim for recent graduates as are the unemployment (speaking from first hand experience).

    I don’t see how university becomes affordable for most people in the future.

    • I’m a general believer in the notion that things will get far worse before they get better. But despite my short-term pessimism, I’m a long-term optimist… sort of… my pessimism even challenges my long-term optimism. One thing I’m certain of is big changes are on the horizon. The US at least is positioned, historically and demographically, to deal with big changes.

    • What did you have in mind? I doubt I’d be able to write much of interest on the topic, assuming I felt motivated to try. I know absolutely nothing about American college admissions. It would require immense research just for me to begin grasp the issues involved. Why don’t you write about it? You should start a blog, if you haven’t already.

    • That is interesting. My immediate thoughts go to culture.

      What does ‘holistic’ mean in American culture? Do any other countries use supposedly ‘holistic’ methods? Which countries do and which don’t, and what are the commonalities and patterns that can be discerned?

      I do agree with some of the commenters. Part of the culture in the US has to do with racism and classism. Rhetoric about ‘holistic’ standards allows universities to hide what they actually do. A large number of students possibly get let in simply because they are the legacies or children of staff. It’s the same thing with diversity.

      So much gets hidden. This is why racism and classism are so hard to talk about in the US. And so hard to tease out from the data.

    • I’m the same. I don’t see college as being necessary and useful for every person. But my reasons have nothing to do with seeing particular groups of people as being inherently intellectually inferior. I think college should be available to everyone and that a quality primary education should be available to everyone in order to prepare them for college, if that is what they choose. Just no early tracking. Everyone should be allowed to explore their potentials and their options before being locked into a particular career path.

      • Murray’s approaching this with a fatalist hierarchal way. Almost in a caste-like way, if you’ve read brave new world. Just like brave new world actually. Prescriptive.

        Also he’s pretty mistaken about the “elite” lol. He’s the type of guy who really sees things in a brave new world way. A very prescriptive and rigid way. My professor says… Even in a social Darwinist way. Frankly…. A product of his times :/

        I think his philosophies/attitudes would screw over people even more frankly.

        You know Benjamin, I used to go to an sort of ‘elite’ school before transferring. I know several people at elite schools. What sets them apart isn’t that they were born intellectually geniuses. They are hard-working, diligent, focused, and driven. They played the “college admissions” game well, so to speak.

        When you’re at these schools, it’s not that you’re around more genetically blessed people. It’s that your around people who are more driven to get what they want to an high-achieve. That are more into school. That’s the difference in walking around Dartmouth and state u. Not that one has the genetic lucky ones and one has the genetic average joes.

        • With many immigrant parents I’ve known, I’ve found that they push their kids into succeeding in conventional ways regardless, while these American born parents don’t push their kids as much but are more obsessed with labels. Like “normal” “gifted” etc.

        • From the bottom of my heart, I genuinely do think that the kids I know at ivies, and went do elite high schools, are not any smarter than myself. However, they were much more academically serious than I was.

        • You understand Murray perfectly. You understand him better than he probably understands himself. He would never be able to admit, even to himself, that he would like to live in a caste-like social Darwinist brave new world. But in essence that is exactly what he wants, in that it is what he promotes would lead to.

  23. The issue is how much society values education, learning, and knowledge.

    I think that one thing that I have noticed about Americans, much more so than other nations is, there’s a deep “what’s in it for me” mentality, which is why schools are declining and tuition fees are on the rise. In particular, one thing I’ve noticed is that very senior neighbourhoods are reluctant for example to fund property taxes for high quality schools.

    Notice how teachers are portrayed in the media. There’s a deep lack of respect for teachers I think ingrained in society. Perhaps that extends too to scientists, university professors, and researchers in general.

    • “The issue is how much society values education, learning, and knowledge.”

      You are absolutely right.

      The problem isn’t something to which we need to find solutions. There are many solutions that we could choose. The real problem is that we have little desire to seek effective solutions. We’d have to value education, learning, and knowledge before we can value a society an education system that will support and promote those values. Our failed schools could be fixed over night, if we wanted to… but we don’t.

      People argue about this issue as if it is finding the right solution. There is no one right solution. As Finland shows, they give local teachers and schools to try out different solutions. Many successful education systems around the world achieve success through different methods. But what makes them stand above the US is that they actually value education.

      “I think that one thing that I have noticed about Americans, much more so than other nations is, there’s a deep “what’s in it for me” mentality”

      That is because we have a relatively low culture of trust, especially compared to countries like Finland. But it isn’t just about homogenous populations.

      As many have noted, there are highy diverse societies with some of the best education systems in the world and there are highly homogenous societies with the worst. Most of the poor, underdeveloped countries in the world are fairly homogenous. Even in the US, there are states that have had high homogeneity for their entire histories and they still don’t rank all that well on world comparisons.

      There are a number of reasons for the relatively weak culture of trust in the US. The US was built on indentured servitude, slavery, genocide, and plutocracy. The US is the only country in the world that was founded on slavery, according to our Constitution. And our history involves the largest genocide in world history. Most of the colonies began as for-profit ventures, and so the business elite ruled from the beginning. This has always been a class-based society and has been a race-based society from very early on.

      We are a society that formed out of immense violence. That violence continues in many ways, from mass poverty to mass incarceration, from military imperialism to police state. We are one of the most violent countries in the developed world, especially in the West. Our history actually has more in common with other violent post-colonial countries in Africa and the rest of the Americas.

      How does a population seek to create a culture of trust when they suffer under collective post-traumatic stress disorder? We are the abused child who returns home every night to be abused some more and then grows up to abuse his own children. It is a victimization cycle. Our children and our schools are just one small part of the pattern of abuse and negligence.

      • Relevant to me as an undergrad

        We push people into college, yet make it nearly impossible to go I college without crippling debt. We essentially push our youth into debt slavery, often for long years, and even the rest of their lives.

  24. I think that America seems to respond well to two things:

    1. Success in sports
    2. Making a lot of money

    Perhaps celebrities could be a third category in film, fashion, and so on.

    But yes, there is a lot of distrust. Gun politics is a good example. I think that the need that people feel to carry guns everywhere, particularly in the conservative areas is an example of this. Canadians, Europeans, Kiwis, and Australians view this as madness.

    There is also the perception that ALL immigrants are always moochers, a perception not shared in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, despite their high immigration. If pushed, the political right is sometimes will to recognize Asians at times as a model minority (Orientals and Indians), but otherwise there’s a contempt.

    Finally there is a much lower desire to take actions for the collective good of society.

    • Part of our culture of mistrust is that we as a society have been unable to recognize it for what it is. But what will or could happen as more Americans come to understand the fundamental problem we face?

      An increasingly globalized world is forcing Americans to see what makes them different from particular countries (specifically the developed West and most especially places like Finland) and similar to other countries (the post-colonial non-West). A generation of Americans is growing up a lot less isolated from and ignorant of the larger world, as studies show.

      What might this mean?

  25. It will probably mean that the culture wars will increase in division.

    Those on the right will probably move further to the right and attempt to shield themselves or deny outright the types of changes that are affecting the world.

    • It will be a generational conflict, as has happened many times in history. Every major social always change involves generational conflict. It requires the young to force change. And it requires something that significantly alters the experience of the young to put them in a position of conflict. It is a recipe for interesting results.

    • Great article! Those Finns are smart people. I wish more Americans got a clue. We argue over ideology here in the states, instead of discussing what is actually best for the public good. So many Americans are so friggin ignorant that they don’t even understand what public good means.

  26. I dig the accent though :p

    So what are your thoughts on the idea of a vancouver with a big asian presence? Asians are like 1/5 to. 1/3 of vancouver. It’s like San Francisco as well: noticeable Asian cultural presence.

    • I really don’t care. Europeans and their descendants have no more claim to non-European land than does any other non-native group. A white person who says that Asians have no right to be in North America should follow the logic of their argument and be consistent by pointing out that neither do they have right to be where they are living. I’ll accept to kicking the Asians out when the professor goes back to where his ancestors came from.

          • Sure. Depends on how were defining it as well.

            Put it this way. Having a high iq number dosen’t mean you must be brilliant or insightful. Is this your jist? But them that calls into question what brilliant or genius or insightful means. Since in most “iq” scales a certain number threshold is labeled “brilliant.” These people in these thresholds are put into American gifted programs

      • Here is a comment on the professor and the article. What do you think? I know neither of is live in vancouver. I’m not sure of Iowa city but even here in NYC, the ethnic areas have their signs in both that language and English, and the street signs are in English :/ still I wonder is vancouver is exaggerated. And 20% Chinese hardly sounds like “hongcouver”, even if the would give vancouver a noticeable asian presence. Even in the most asian areas that are complained about (all Chinese signs, etc) is around 60% asian. Flushing, the heavily asian area in Queens NYC and honestly the true Chinatown (Manhattan Chinatown has like no Chinese left) is like 60% asian as well. It’s where to go to good Chinese and Korean shit in town.

        I have friends in Vancouver, BC, and from Vancouver, BC, and they’ve complained about this. In many parts of the city, all signs, light street signs, also have to be in Chinese for safety reasons, and communication is extremely difficult when there are so many people immigrating who aren’t learning the local languages, and it is causing segregation based just on who can even talk to each other (and this is leading to the need for the city to be replacing all the signs everywhere). There’s a lot of complaining that the people immigrating aren’t trying to assimilate or even blend cultures, but are trying to turn the whole city into a 2nd China. No one thinks the people already there should be the ones to have to learn another language, but if you bring any of this up, you risk being called a racist.

        Vancouver is now about 20% Chinese nationals who’ve immigrated. That’s a lot of recent immigration from the same country. Some people are going to think it’s great, but a lot are seeing problems with the speed and extreme numbers. I can see how it’s a problem, and it’s not a race issue. If Germans started immigrating in droves, were not trying to learn the local language or anything, and expected the existing local to an area to start making all the changes, it would still be a problem, even though it’s all white people.

        • “If Germans started immigrating in droves, were not trying to learn the local language or anything, and expected the existing local to an area to start making all the changes, it would still be a problem, even though it’s all white people.”

          Actually, that is precisely what happened in the US.

          There was a mass migration of Germans during the colonial period. Pennsylvania was majority German before the American Revolution. The Germans didn’t assimilate and kept to themselves. They had their own newspapers written in German. Also, early political documents were printed in multiple languages.

          The Scots-Irish also flooded into Pennsylvania and refused to assimilate. They caused a lot of problems. They even threatened to ransack Philadelphia at one point when they showed up as a mob because they were unhappy about something. Only Benjamin Franklin was able to calm them down. BTW Franklin complained about all the Germans not assimilating and yet he still produced the first German language newspaper because he realized there was profit in it.

          More large waves of Germans continued through the 1800s and into the WWII era. The Germans tended to all settle in the same places together. Many of them refused to assimilate. Well into the 20th century, there were German language newspapers all across the US. In German majority cities of the Upper Midwest, Germans taught in the German language in public schools.

          Germans were everywhere. German ancestry is the largest of any in the US. There are more German descendants than all British descendants combined. All those Germans didn’t assimilate willingly. It took anti-German mob violence and political oppression during the world wars to force them to assimilate. That assimilation took 3 centuries to be more or less completed, and still some pockets of Germans remained unassimilated (e.g., Amish).

          What is being said about Asians today has been said about many ethnic immigrants of the past. It is the same old story repeating itself. People never learn from the past because they don’t know the past.

          Assimilation is a slow process. It’s nothing to get all excited about. Civilization won’t collapse because there are people speakng multiple languages. Canada has been a multilingual nation for a long time. They still haven’t been able to force the French to assimilate after all these centuries, as the US finally did with the Germans.

          Who cares that French Canadians speak French, Chinese Canadians speak Chinese, First Nations Canadians speak native languages, and Engish Canadians speak English? Why should anyone care?

          • I know about the French Canadians yes. Though those complaining about immigrants will call Canada English and French so they see French as integral I guess. But tensions have always been an issue between Quebec and the rest of English speaking canada. My ethnic French Canadian hockey playing professor talked about how when he had a hockey game in canada his father would warn him that they wouldn’t like him because he was French.

            I saw a reactionary arguing on a forum that the currently immigrants we’re different because the previous immigrants were still European. Also that marriages between the euro ethnic groups weren’t illegal the way marriages between whites and non-whites were cause like, same race yo.

          • There are plenty of examples of Europeans and European descendants being discriminatory against other Europeans and European descendants. I know in the US there have always been discrimatory laws against various minority groups, not just the typical minorities of blacks, Asians, etc. I’m constantly amazed by how much historical ignorance there is.

        • “I’m not sure of Iowa city but even here in NYC, the ethnic areas have their signs in both that language and English, and the street signs are in English”

          Iowa City is unusual. There has been a large influx of Asians, but they are mostly college students. They aren’t permanent residents and so they aren’t going to assimilate. Most of them go back to their home countries.

          So, I don’t think Asians are going to change Iowa City that much. There is a slight increase in Asian businesses. Some of them do have signs in non-English languages, but they are very few.

          It’s a small college town. Locals worry more about blacks from Chicago than Asians.

    • I’d say that sexuality is both practical and playful. The most intelligent species regularly enjoy sexual play. It serves no particular purpose other than general group bonding. Dolphins in particular are promiscuous, including group sex and homosexuality. There is some connection between intelligence, creativity, playfulness, and promiscuity. Many intelligent animals simply seem to find sex fun and so do it all the time.

  27. Getting real tired of the “be grateful we let tou in and aren’t as racist as you Asians” and the ” stop complaining about racist your countries are way worse than ours” rhetoric

    Also what’s the deal with the lumping of all Europeans into one group, calling them the real creators of America-canada, and setting them against non-euro background people. Like an Irish immigrant can join the cause against… Those dirty brown immigrants cause Irish immigrant is white and therefore welcome.

      • Speaking as an American, I can safely say that my country has no moral highground to chastise any other people in the world about racism. Canada, of course, wasn’t directly built on slavery… but it was part of the slave trade and I’m sure, like the US, it included some genocide and racism along the way.

        • It’s like a popular thing with some reactionaries to respond to asian westerner complaints of racism with takin the weird moral high ground as the imgur screenshot below. Actually reactionaries take the moral pretentiousness ground in general, and a martyr complex at once. “Our moral superiority makes us better but is killing us cause morally inferior people are coming in due to our generosity”

          What about non-British non-French whites though? Irish? Germans? Poles? Italians? Ukrainians? E states that Canada is a Anglo and French place, but then uses ‘Europeans’ the rest of the time. Is Britain and France the only European places or something?

          • “What about non-British non-French whites though? Irish? Germans? Poles? Italians? Ukrainians? E states that Canada is a Anglo and French place, but then uses ‘Europeans’ the rest of the time. Is Britain and France the only European places or something?”

            Reactionary arguments are ultimately emotional, not rational. Any logic offered will just be rationalization for bigotry. But the bigotry preccedes all else. It is something the reactionary knows in their gut. They know they are superior and everyone else inferior. They know that it all belongs to them and no one else. It is a mentality of fear and hatred.

          • Or is it cause those other Europeans still “look like” them? I just think it’s weird how they say canada is an Anglo and French country, but then lump all Europeans together against non-euros.

            I think they’re cool with other euros as long as they speak English and French cause they, like, look like us.

            It’s funny because the prof himself is mixed race. He is half Brit half Puerto Rican and identifies as mixed race

          • That is only after centuries of European ethnics fighitng against each other. Canada isn’t a European love-fest. The French were conquered by the English, just as the natives were conquered. The French and English have hated each other for most of Canadian history as strongly as many white Canadians now hate Asians. French and English in the past didn’t think they looked like each other. A monolithic European white identity is a recent invention, only a few generations old.

        • All the people in the world will have to one day come to terms with the centuries of racism, colonialism, slavery, genocide, etc. Sure, it hasn’t just been Westerners. But each people has to claim the sins of their shared history.

          Asians have to deal with their own problems in their own way. As Westerners, we should just focus on our own failings and sordid history. After we have morally perfected ourselves we can talk about the rest of the world.

          “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

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