Social Distortion (Part 1)

Earlier today, Alexander Russo posted Comparisons: The “PISA Myth” Everyone Loves containing an excerpt from The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia, which was published by an eduwonk blogger from Sweden, now a Univ. of Chicago PhD student, who believes many followers of US educational reform confuse policy with culture, and other demographic factors.  For his analysis, the Swedish blogger filtered the PISA data by excluding data from immigrant students in Europe and only using non-Hispanic white students in the US for what he deemed an “apples to apples” comparison of scores in an attempt to make his point that the US educational system is not as deficient as many believe, or as the PISA data show.  Alexander Russo picked up the Swedish blogger from Ezra Kline’s Wonkbook, although I could not find reference to it on Kline’s site.*  Many sites picked up Russo’s post, however.

While the Swedish blogger general assertion has some validity, in that many of the schools in our country offer an outstanding education for students, many are unable to reach certain student segments for a variety of reasons, most of which are outside of the scope of the current educational system, which is the Swedish eduwonk’s main point.  Significant research over the past five decades show that more often than not, students who come from low socioeconomic status (SES) communities struggle academically.  Low SES corresponds to poverty which often correlates with reduced parental involvement, limited academic support, and a spate of other limitations which make student academic achievement, as compared to students of privilege, difficult, if not impossible, without significant effort from parents and community.

* According to this site, “Ezra Klein writes an opinionated blog on economic policy, collapsing banks, cap and trade, health care reform and pretty much anything else you can attach a chart to.”  As you will see below, I guess the chart caught his eye and voilà it’s now all over the blogosphere…

Comparisons: The “PISA Myth” Everyone Loves

Everyone loves the “US schools are awful” myth, according to this post (The amazing truth about PISA scores) Ezra Klein noted in Wonkbook this morning.  Why?

“The liberal left in U.S and in Europe loves this myth, because they get to demand more government spending, and at the same time get to gloat about how much smarter Europeans are than Americans. The right also kind of likes the myth, because they get to blame social problems on the government, and scare the public about Chinese competitiveness.”

Take out uneducated nonwhite immigrants and American schools (red bar) aren’t doing all that bad on PISA, apparently.



Posted by: DaveDecember 29, 2010 at 18:01 PM

While your analysis may be true, Alexander, it also leaves one of the fastest growing, poorest, and most challenged segments of our society out of the picture: children of immigrant families, whether first, second or third generation, many of whom are of low socioeconomic status (SES).  These students are struggling mightily to succeed in our school systems.  Much of their struggle is a result of low SES, and its concomitant challenges such as limited: adult supervision, academic support, parental educational background, free time to study, etcetera.  These shortcomings need to be addressed before it is realistic for anyone with these constraints to have any chance of achieving parity with more privileged students.  No matter how many teachers or principals are fired, schools restarted, charters implemented, all will yield minimal success if parents and students still bear burdens like these that others do not.

Furthermore, while I agree that there are many statistical subtleties to statements regarding the condition of our educational system, and that most interest groups, of all political persuasions, distort the data to suit their needs, it is also as misleading to highlight the standing of one, more privileged, race at the exclusion of others to make a point that our national standing on PISA, as a middle of the pack score, is a myth, or so your posting seems to imply.

You seem to wield significant influence in your blog, I hope you, and all edupundits for that matter, keep integrity, honesty, and fairness in mind whenever you make posts related to improving education.  Half truths of one persuasion are as much a myth as others, and just as damaging to the debate, and ultimately progress towards equitable education for all.

See Social Distortion (Part 2) for additional perspective on this issue.

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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1 Response to Social Distortion (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: Social Distortion (Part 2) | Reflections of a Math Teacher Candidate

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