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PISA Forever
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December 30, 2010, 04:44 AM
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The New York Times sends a reporter to Shanghai to discover what the secret is of Shanghai schools that makes their 15-year-old students do so well on the PISA tests:
Shanghai Schools Approach Pushes Students to Top of Tests

... The five-story school building, which houses Grades eight and nine in a central district of Shanghai, is rather nondescript. Students wear rumpled school uniforms, classrooms are crowded and lunch is bused in every afternoon. But the school, which operates from 8:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. on most days, is considered one of the city’s best middle schools.

Oh ... so, that`s the secret! Rumpled school uniforms. Or maybe busing in lunch every afternoon. Or could it be the nondescript school buildings? Well, it`s got to be something.

Seriously, the article does point out that Shanghai students tend to behave in a more disciplined manner in the classroom than American students, which can`t hurt.

The big, unmentioned story in American education is how institutional (i.e., outside-the-classroom) support for teachers in maintaining discipline in the classrooms has been undermined over the decades by disparate impact worries. The Obama Administration, for example, has only increased the persecution of schools that try to maintain order. From the New York Times earlier this year:

School Suspensions Lead to Legal Challenge
... poor black students are suspended at three times the rate of whites, a disparity not fully explained by differences in income or behavior. On March 8, the education secretary, Arne Duncan, lamented �schools that seem to suspend and discipline only young African-American boys� as he pledged stronger efforts to ensure racial equality in schooling.
Any time a student is sent out of the classroom to maintain order — whether to the dean`s office, to after school detention, to home for a suspension, or out the door on an expulsion — can be counted and thus used as evidence in a disparate impact discrimination lawsuit against a deep-pocketed school district. Lawsuit settlements typically require that voluminous statistics then be maintained and published on disciplinary actions by race in order to facilitate future disparate impact lawsuits. For example, Los Angeles public schools publish online their expulsion and suspension data by race for each of the last five years. (Here`s the disciplinary data by race for Chatsworth H.S. in the far northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley.)

In contrast, what the teacher does in the classroom to maintain order can`t be counted.

Thus, the enormous emphasis in the conventional wisdom today on how we must use value-added statistics to identify good teachers and fire bad teachers: because disparate impact lawsuits undermine institutional support for discipline, we`re down to needing to find teachers who can maintain order in their classrooms through sheer force of personality.

For example, Teach for America`s model for who will make a good teacher is A) got into an exclusive college (i.e., smart), B) got good grades there (i.e., hard-working), and C) has a demonstrated track record of leadership accomplishment (i.e., charismatic alpha personality).

That`s swell, but smart, hard-working people with commanding personalities, such as Steve Jobs, James Cameron, Bill Belichik, Warren Buffett, Margaret Thatcher, and the like sometimes have better things to do than be schoolteachers. We need to be thinking instead about how our institutions can provide teachers who are not paragons with the support they need to do their jobs.

For example, it would be nice to be able to hire a person who both A) cares deeply about making The Great Gatsby come alive for today`s youth and B) lives to put young punks in their places. Sometimes, you can find a person who is outstanding at both. Most of the time, however, it`s easier to hire two people, one to teach English and the other to be Assistant Dean of Discipline and Offensive Line Coach, and then have them specialize in what they do best. But, that puts school districts in jeopardy of violating disparate impact norms. Hence, the current emphasis on finding Superman teachers and firing the non-Supermen.

In contrast, Pat Buchanan`s new column takes a more realistic approach to what the PISA scores tell us:

"Among the OECD members, the most developed 34 nations on earth, Mexico, principal feeder nation for U.S. schools, came in dead last in reading.

Steve Sailer of VDARE.com got the full list of 65 nations, broke down U.S. reading scores by race, then measured Americans with the countries and continents whence their families originated. What he found was surprising. [PISA Scores Show Demography Is Destiny In Education Too-But Washington Doesn`t Want You To Know, December 19, 2010]

Asian-Americans outperform all Asian students except for Shanghai-Chinese.

White Americans outperform students from all 37 predominantly white nations except Finns, and U.S. Hispanics outperformed the students of all eight Latin American countries that participated in the tests.

African-American kids would have outscored the students of any sub-Saharan African country that took the test (none did) and did outperform the only black country to participate, Trinidad and Tobago, by 25 points.

America`s public schools, then, are not abject failures.

They are educating immigrants and their descendants to outperform the kinfolk their parents or ancestors left behind when they came to America. America`s schools are improving the academic performance of all Americans above what it would have been had they not come to America.

What American schools are failing at, despite the trillions poured into schools since the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is closing the racial divide."