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After correcting for demographics, US schools fare better than EU/Asian schools (super-economy.blogspot.com)
111 points by yummyfajitas on Dec 28, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 191 comments

There's something a little creepy about saying there's nothing wrong with the American education system by only looking at those in the US of European descent and excluding all others.

Basically it doesn't matter how well or badly the rest of the population does, it doesn't change the OP's hypothesis.

The point about immigrants scoring lower is well-taken but this is largely a language barrier. How exactly does this apply to, say, the African American segment of the population, many of whom have been in the US for hundreds of years and most of whom know no other language than English?

Socioeconomic factors, the education level of your parents and so on obviously come into play here but I read this post and read it like this: "if we exclude all the problems in the US education system, the US education system is fine!"

Perhaps that's not entirely fair but one must be very careful before discounting selection bias when drawing conclusions such as these.

Now I'm not claiming the US education system is bad. Frankly I have no personal experience with it (coming from the "negative gap" of Australia).

I will say one thing: the US has something we don't in Australia and that's a tenured teacher system that makes it (near-)impossible to fire teachers [1]. It's still not easy in Australia but it is easier. That strikes me as a problem.

[1]: http://reason.com/assets/db/12639308918768.pdf

Step one in solving problems is identify the problem. Especially in the political sphere people love to skip over this step for a variety of reasons I hardly have to spell out.

If in fact our schooling policies are basically OK and the problem lies almost solely in the homes, then solutions involving throwing more money at school won't work. This is a worthy investigation.

My personal biases lead me to believe that if anything there's problems in both places, so my main point isn't that this person is necessarily right or wrong, my main point is Step One: Identify The Problem. It's often harder than you might think and often requires biases to be discarded.

"If in fact our schooling policies are basically OK and the problem lies almost solely in the homes, then solutions involving throwing more money at school won't work. This is a worthy investigation."

Even if we accept your premise, I'm not sure we need to accept your conclusion. Just because the cause of the problem is a difference in home life, doesn't mean that the easiest solution to the problem is to "fix" the home life (i.e. end poverty).

There are a number of schools (usually charters) who teach low-income students and structure themselves to compensate for any disadvantages students may have coming in (with strategies like longer school days/years). Some of these schools (KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Harlem Children's Zone) have had incredible success.

It might seem strange to "overcompensate" for differences at home in schools - but it's a lot easier to change schools than it is to change people's home life.

At least in the case of Harlem Children's Zone, it's a lot more than a school. So the conclusion that throwing money at schools won't work is correct. We should instead throw "school" money at things like HCZ. I think you're actually in agreement with jerf, but are using different definitions of "school".

>Just because the cause of the problem is a difference in home life, doesn't mean that the easiest solution to the problem is to "fix" the home life (i.e. end poverty).

Just adding my voice to the sibling posts - by our governments figures we're below the poverty line, we were substantially below it but we're clawing our way up slowly. We do literacy and numeracy educational activities, general knowledge, problem solving, etc. with our kids at home.

The eldest is now at school so his rate of learning has fallen back a bit but I think we're probably doing as much as anyone above the poverty line.

Where we falter is affording things like sports equipment, foreign trips, arts (theatre) and music events.

IMO the whole schooling system probably needs working over; the assumption appears to be that school+parents are failing if kids aren't academic. Not everyone is, nor should be, particularly academic. We don't seem to decry standards in education when people leave school and can't do basic vehicle maintenance or simple DIY tasks. Education is not solely intellectual pursuit.

How do you propose to "overcompensate" at school for a lack of motivation brought about by low parental engagement. Unless you're getting the parents into school to have co-learning experiences or something I don't really buy the idea that tightening your belt will stop your shoes falling off.

Unless by "poverty" you mean the sum culture, attitude, and circumstances that lead to continued poverty, I don't think "poverty" (i.e. a simple lack of money) is the cause of the home life problem. I think that cultural (not to be misread as racial!) attitudes and parenting strategies (or lack thereof) are far more problematic than the actual economics.

"[If] the problem lies almost solely in the homes, then solutions involving throwing more money at school won't work. This is a worthy investigation."

Except that we already know how much of the problem stems from the home from the decades worth of research that has already been done. The PISA numbers don't contribute anything to our understanding of the problem, they're just a red herring designed to get people asking the wrong questions.

Since we already know the answer, I guess I'll just expose my ignorance: what % of test score variance is explained by the home environment?

And while we are on the topic, what % of variance is caused by: IQ, non-IQ ethnic factors, school quality, teacher quality, non-home environment, etc? I.e., what are the principal components of educational outcomes?

Also, what are the "wrong questions" this article is "designed" to get people to ask?

"what % of test score variance is explained by the home environment?"

C.f. my comment here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2046264

Both of the sources I linked to are a good place to start in terms of understanding the numbers. Another good source is the Coleman Report, which is probably the most important education study ever done: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/ICPSR/studies/06389

The data was later reanalyzed using more modern statistical techniques, so I'm not sure if the link has the new analysis or the original analysis. Both come to basically the same conclusions though. The most famous finding of the study was probably that within-school effects are much greater than between-school effects, meaning that what track your kid is placed into inside the school has a much greater impact on their education than if they go to a 'good' or 'bad' school. The interesting thing is that this study was commissioned in order to find evidence that black schools were performing much worse than white schools in order to justify integration, but the study actually found the opposite so the government essentially tried to bury it. But it was actually the largest study ever conducted at the time, and I think it's still one of the top five largest to this day.

Forgive me, but I lack a copy of the expensive proprietary software necessary to open your second link. Could you just tell us what % of variance is explained by home environment?

(I'm also having a hard time finding it in your 1969 paper, but I admit I only skimmed the first 15 pages or so.)

The percent variance is different depending on what you want to know the variance of. It's higher for reading than for math, because kids in high-SES families spend much more time reading at home than they spend doing math at home. And even for literacy it depends on what you're measuring, e.g. it's different for vocabulary knowledge than for reading comprehension.

The reason I linked to the 1969 paper is that it was the first of its kind, so the easiest way to find the more recent research is to look for papers that cite it. A quick glance at their research shows that upwards of 80% of the variance in their reading metrics was due to differences in how students spent the four summer vacations. This isn't taking into account either the initial gap (100% from home differences) or the fact that home differences effect progress made during the year. Basically the amount of variance due to home differences is definitely over 90%, but there isn't enough information from this study to put an exact number on it.

Basically the only two things that have changed since 1969 are that A) poor people are much poorer and B) schools for poor people are worse. I don't know offhand how these two factors balance each other out, but I'd guess that overall the numbers are pretty similar.

Interesting - so if 80-90% of variance is due to home environment, it seems like schools are just a minor concern (assuming the remaining 10-20% is all due to schools). Improving schools by 10% only improves students by 1-2%! Unless such improvements are cheap, they are almost certainly not cost effective.

It also means that international comparisons of student performance are almost certainly worthless - we aren't comparing school performance, we are simply comparing student quality.

Incidentally, you are wrong on your changes since 1969. The poor have gotten vastly richer since then. In 1969, the bottom 10% of the country didn't even have flush toilets.

"Improving schools by 10% only improves students by 1-2%"

The fact that 90% of the gap between high-SES students and low-SES students is attributable to home factors doesn't tell us what percent of their total knowledge students gain at school verse at home.

And remember that percent is very different for high-SES and low-SES students-- the study says that high-SES students learn 3.5-4x times faster in school than at home. Whereas low-SES students learn 16x times faster in school than at home. And the vast majority of students are low- or middle-SES.

So while improving schools by 10% probably wouldn't be a good way to close the gap between high-SES and low-SES students, it might still be cost effective at increasing their total knowledge and ability.

Also, when I said the poor have gotten poorer, what I meant was that the gap between the rich and poor has gotten larger, because again that's what this study is about.

The fact that 90% of the gap between high-SES students and low-SES students is attributable to home factors doesn't tell us what percent of their total knowledge students gain at school verse at home.

Sorry, I guess I misunderstood you then. I asked "what % of test score variance is caused by the home environment", and you said "80-90%". So is it fair to say that we really don't know what factors predict student achievement, all we really have is a possible explanation of one particular delta?

In that case, the story we are discussing is perhaps more useful than you initially thought.

Also, when I said the poor have gotten poorer, what I meant was that the gap between the rich and poor has gotten larger, because again that's what this study is about.

This is also unclear. In terms of dollars, sure, but not necessarily in terms of living conditions. In 1970, the rich had servants while the poor had outhouses. In 2010, the rich have iPhones while the poor have Droids (sometimes even a dumb phone without data).

> expensive proprietary software

There are enough free PDF readers, what are you talking about? http://www.pdfreaders.org/

All the files behind the second link are here:


I think the point was to get an actual number. Pointing at a mountain of evidence and saying to go find the number yourself doesn't advance the conversation.

That's just documentation for a SAS file.

Except that we already know how much of the problem stems from the home from the decades worth of research that has already been done.

Yet we consistently ignore what we know when discussing policy. We infer bad schools from bad student outcomes. If it's true, then what's wrong with saying it? If it's known, why does our national debate not reflect it?

Because its in the best interest of those who know, not do anything. Year-round schools would be one of the best tools to close the education gap. But if you know this, and your child benefits from the fact that they effectively get year-round schooling, while 30% of the population doesn't, you might be motivated to do nothing.

While not everyone is "evil" you do have to remember that when policy reform is being done by those who have the most to "lose", be skeptical.

If in fact our schooling policies are basically OK and the problem lies almost solely in the homes, then solutions involving throwing more money at school won't work. This is a worthy investigation.

I would love to see this country actually try real wealth redistribution. Not 90% tax on the top 2%... but 90% tax on the top 60%.

If throwing money at schools doesn't work... does throwing money at people?

If you give a man a fish he can eat for a day, if you teach a man to fish he can live forever.

Simply put, throwing money at poor people solves no problems. If anything it further entrenches the mentality of entitlement and dependency. I would actually argue it's the social services that are forcing minorities to be oppressed and under achieve in society. We need to stop blindly helping those that ask and teach them to help themselves.

You can see trends of this everywhere.

1. Black Students from the eyes of a teacher. It's disheartening in a lot of places -- but his conclusion is similarly that we have given too much.


2. Africa has a huge dependency issue. And a lot of very smart African thinkers are suggesting less aid or directing the aid towards more sustainable endeavors is the long-term solution.

http://www.nme.com/news/bono/32704 http://store.whatarewedoinghere.net/What-Are-We-Doing-Here-F...

While the quote is catchy, it's not applicable as stated.

In our society, money is the fishing pole and boat. You can teach a man to fish with his bare hands in the middle of Death Valley, but that will do him little good. He'll die just as fast, if not faster.

Wealth redistribution isn't an either-or question. It's really giving the man fish today, because learning to fish takes a while. And learning to fish decently requires that you have a good constition.

Our biggest entitlement programs go towards largely benefiting white people (everything from freeways to police departments to the courts to the military).

The Marty link was a funny one. I used to do tutoring at a "black" school. I met teachers like him, who told me the students were worthless. Two of the "worthless" students I tutored, I was able to help them get 800s on their math SATs (one went to a military academy and the other Berkeley).

The problem isn't that we've given too much, but the school system is filled with Marty's who never really gave at all.

>How exactly does this apply to, say, the African American segment of the population, many of whom have been in the US for hundreds of years and most of whom know no other language than English?

There's an extreme anti-education element to black culture in the US. Caring about and one's education and working hard in school is derided as "acting white". It doesn't apply to everyone, of course (I knew black Americans at Georgetown and Stanford), but it's significant enough to bring down aggregate measures quite a lot. I've also seen studies showing that black parents spend less time helping their children with schoolwork than white and Asian parents.

The US school system isn't perfect (the inability to fire bad teachers, largely because of unions, is, in my opinion, among the biggest problems in the country), but it's not totally or even primarily at fault for the education problems among black people.


>There's something a little creepy about saying there's nothing wrong with the American education system by only looking at those in the US of European descent and excluding all others.

You're misrepresenting this, not sure if it's deliberate, but this is done for the sake of comparing the US to Europe, which is pretty reasonable and not crypto-racist as you imply.

There's an extreme anti-education element to black culture in the US. Caring about and one's education and working hard in school is derided as "acting white".

This is a very popular meme in tech circles, based mainly on John Ogbu's work, but if you actually look at the literature in the area, the results are all over the place. Roland Fryer at Harvard is a proponent of the "acting white" theory, but even he didn't agree with Ogbu and he had to "adjust" the definition of acting white to show a trend: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/fryer/files/Empiric...

Tyson et al found that reduced academic achievement was generally for a variety of reasons ("fear of not doing well academically" being the biggest) and not "acting white": http://www.tc.columbia.edu/students/see/events/Darity_et_al_...

Cook and Ludwig as well found that "acting white" was not much of a factor in academic perforamnce: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/%28SICI%291520-66...

Erika Fisher: "According to the students themselves, their lack of academic success is not seen by them as a way to be anti-White or proBlack by any means. .. When asked how they felt about the high-achieving students, underachievers claimed to respect their determination and commitment to academics. They cite individual personality differences rather than a racial or ethnic divide as the cause of the achievement disparity between the groups." http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3626/is_200507/ai_n1...

One point to note is that black culture in American is not monolithic. In this article, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/opinion/07kristof.html?_r=... , they mention the success of West Indian blacks.

They pointed out in that articles West Indian born generally grow up with their fathers. I think this is important. Here is some statistics of being fatherless:

15.3 times more likely to have behavioral disorders

4.6 times more likely to commit suicide

6.6 times more likely to become teenaged mothers

24.3 times more likely to run away

15.3 times more likely to have behavioral disorders

6.3 times more likely to be in a state-operated institutions

10.8 times more likely to commit rape

6.6 times more likely to drop out of school

15.3 times more likely to end up in prison while a teenage

73% of adolescent murderers come from mother only homes

6.3 times more likely to be in state operated institutions


70% of Black Americans are raised in a single parent household and if you can combine that with the above statistics, the picture is not pretty.

Yes so my point is if you cut the black culture along different lines you will get a pattern that emerges similar to the Jews and Asians.

70% of Black Americans are raised in a single parent household and if you can combine that with the above statistics, the picture is not pretty.

The problem with single-parent housing has more to do with the reduction in income than lack of an authority figure/role model: A substantial body of research has demonstrated that, once income differences are taken into account, differences between children in single mother and two-parent families are far less pronounced." http://www.alabamapolicy.org/pdf/currentfamilystructure.pdf

The other thing is that West Indians and African immigrants outperform everyone (including Asians).

I totally agree with it being an income issue, but I only had statistics about fatherless.

If others are looking for a reference on what he is talking about regarding West Indian and African Black Immigrants see below:

About 8 percent, or 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, they said, but somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of black undergraduates were "West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples."(Foreign Born blacks only make up about 1% of the US population) http://thesouthern.com/news/opinion/editorial/page/article_2...

I'd agree that the US school system is not be the primary reason for education problems among blacks, but neither is the "extreme anti-education element." This element isn't exclusive to blacks and I don't see it as significant enough to bring down aggregate measures for blacks. That's too easy. Most black parents want their kids to do well in school. Unfortunately single parent households are prevalent in the black community. When a single parent is struggling to pay bills and keep food on the table that doesn't leave a lot time for helping with homework.

Also, the lack of black role models has an impact. Artists and athletes are the overwhelming majority of the successful blacks that we see and I wouldn't consider them most of them to be role models. How many blacks do you see out front in the most successful companies? The psychological impact is hard to quantify, but it's there. Why should a black kid be an engineer when he can be a rapper? This isn't necessarily "extreme anti-education" it's more pro-do-what-I-see-as-successful. This loop has existed for hundreds of years in various forms and is incredibly hard to break. Black kids desperately need to see success in areas other than entertainment and sports.

Why do black people need their role models to be black? Plenty of white kids in my day looked up to Michael Jordan as an incredibly hardworking athlete.

The "acting white" derision is pretty much exclusive to blacks, as far as I know. It's certainly not present among Asians or white people. I'm actually not sure about Hispanics but I've never heard of education being frowned upon by them. I don't know what you mean by "that's too easy", but I've heard it cited as the main problem in socio studies, by people like Bill Cosby, and in firsthand accounts in things like reddit AMAs.

"Acting white" is a black concept by definition. But poor whites absolutely do have an analogous cultural stigma: the concept of 'showing up' your parents/family/friends by doing better than them. You may have also heard this expressed as 'thinking they're better', general discouragement of learning, some uses of 'putting on airs', etc.

As for role models, it's more important for minorities to see people like themselves in those roles, strictly because culture is otherwise telling them there are things they cannot and/or are not allowed to do, because of who they are.

It's not that a would-be black scientist needs a black scientist to be inspired to pursue science. Nor a would-be gay politician needs a gay politician to be inspired to pursue public service. It's that a would-be black scientist or gay politician benefits from seeing anyone like themselves doing what they want to do, so they can know our culture is full of shit when it says they can't.

It's far, far easier for a child to believe the lies and be discouraged from a challenging path if there is no evidence out there to disprove what the culture is telling them.

In Australia, this is known as the 'Tall Poppy Theory'. The idea is that the tall poppy is the first one to get cut. Staying alive means staying at the exact same level as everyone else.

It's an awful pattern, but is hardly restricted to one cultural or racial milieu. Class systems everywhere are predicated on the same basic idea: you're supposed to know your place, and you're not supposed to forget it.

Sorry, I wasn't trying to play semantics with the phrase "acting white" - I've never heard of the whole "showing up" thing. I'm surprised to learn of it. That, uh, sucks. The only similar meme in my memepool is rural people feeling a bit miffed/abandoned by relatives or friends who move to a big city, but I didn't get the impression that this had to do with money or education.

The tall stake gets hammered down. Happens in every culture.

The "acting white" derision is pretty much exclusive to blacks, as far as I know

"Acting white" by definition isn't going to be present among whites, but anti-intellectiolism certainly is. See: GOP 2008 presidential campaign.

It's certainly not present among Asians

You've never heard the insult "banana"?

Yeah, I actually have (though I didn't think of it when I wrote my previous comment). But I've heard it only in a joking fashion. And certainly not to do with education or success - more often to do with food or cartoon preferences than anything else, I think.

>Why do black people need their role models to be black? Plenty of white kids in my day looked up to Michael Jordan as an incredibly hardworking athlete.

I didn't mean to say that their role models should only be black. Sorry if I wasn't clear on that. For a black kid, I think the impact of seeing someone who's black and successful is huge. Think about the numbers of black kids who started playing golf because of Tiger Woods. Like I said, it's hard to quantify but it makes a difference.

>The "acting white" derision is pretty much exclusive to blacks, as far as I know. It's certainly not present among Asians or white people. I'm actually not sure about Hispanics but I've never heard of education being frowned upon by them. I don't know what you mean by "that's too easy", but I've heard it cited as the main problem in socio studies, by people like Bill Cosby, and in firsthand accounts in things like reddit AMAs.

The "acting white" derision most certainly exists in other minorities besides blacks. I've seen in it first hand in in some form or another. I'd contend that the "acting white" derision and the "extreme anti-education" sentiment are not necessarily the same thing.

It exists in some Native American groups as well, where people who "act white" are called Apples (red on the outside, white on the inside), similar to how blacks who "act white" are called Oreos. Sadly, both groups often find it easier and more attractive to blame racism for all their problems than to actually consider that there culture is part of the problem.

Ah, I didn't know that and that is unfortunate. I've never really met any Native Americans or otherwise been exposed to their modern culture. I've heard an Asian friend jokingly refer to herself as a banana (yellow outside, white inside) but I got the impression that this was not a serious/pervasive thing in the same way as the Oreo slur. If the "apple" thing is that serious then that's very unfortunate.

serious/pervasive thing in the same way as the Oreo slur

I don't know that "Oreo" is a pervasive slur. I've certainly never heard it IRL.

I don't know if it is pervasive, but it certainly exists:


Oh, I'm not that it exists but the assertion was that the use of "oreo" was pervasive - I'm not convinced of that given thadisputingt I've never heard anyone use that term in real life.

For what it's worth, my ex-girlfriend (an African fugee) was called an oreo (among other things) by African Americans who didn't approve of her lifestyle.

Again, it exists, but if in 38 years of growing up black, going to school with blacks, living, working, playing sports, dating, etc with blacks, I've never heard it, and I don't know anyone who has heard it, I really can't consider it "pervasive".

Lots of things exist, but aren't pervasive - terrorism for example.

How many blacks do you see out front in the most successful companies?

The son of a black man who abandoned his child is running the country. That should be a start. Obama, for that matter, lacked a significant role model (i.e., his father) altogether. Fortunately, he told the NAACP to make up 'no excuses' [1].

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/us/politics/17obama.html

John Ogbu, a Nigerian-American anthropologist, conducted research on this subject.



"No matter how you reform schools, it's not going to solve the problem," he said in an interview. "There are two parts of the problem, society and schools on one hand and the black community on the other hand."

Professor Ogbu's latest conclusions are highlighted in a study of blacks in Shaker Heights, Ohio, an affluent Cleveland suburb whose school district is equally divided between blacks and whites. As in many racially integrated school districts, the black students have lagged behind whites in grade-point averages, test scores and placement in high-level classes. Professor Ogbu was invited by black parents in 1997 to examine the district's 5,000 students to figure out why.

"What amazed me is that these kids who come from homes of doctors and lawyers are not thinking like their parents; they don't know how their parents made it," Professor Ogbu said in an interview. "They are looking at rappers in ghettos as their role models, they are looking at entertainers. The parents work two jobs, three jobs, to give their children everything, but they are not guiding their children."

For example, he said that middle-class black parents in general spent no more time on homework or tracking their children's schooling than poor white parents. And he said that while black students talked in detail about what efforts were needed to get an A and about their desire to achieve, too many nonetheless failed to put forth that effort.

Those kinds of attitudes reflect a long history of adapting to oppression and stymied opportunities, said Professor Ogbu, a Nigerian immigrant who has written that involuntary black immigrants behave like low-status minorities in other societies.

Not surprisingly, he said, the parents were disappointed when he turned the spotlight on them as well as the schools. Peggy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Shaker Heights City School District, said that minority families cared deeply about their children's academic achievement and the district was working with education experts to reduce the racial achievement gap. She noted that while Professor Ogbu called most of the black families in the district middle class, 10 to 12 percent live in poverty.

John Ogbu, a Nigerian-American anthropologist, conducted research on this subject.

And no one was able to replicate his findings. Even Roland Fryer, who is a proponent of the "acting white" theory concluded "We, like Ferguson (2001), Cook and Ludwig (1997), and Ainsworth-Darnell and Downey (1998), find scant empirical support for the oppositional culture hypothesis described in Fordham and Ogbu" in http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/fryer/files/Empiric...

There's something a little creepy about saying there's nothing wrong with the American education system by only looking at those in the US of European descent and excluding all others.

Controlling for exogenous variables is "creepy"?

African Americans (and Asians) are excluded from comparison simply because Finland doesn't have them. Similarly, when comparing the US to Asian schools, the author excludes whites as well. The point here is to compare like to like.

African Americans and Asians Americans are people. I heard that Finland has people (though I'm not really sure). So, their school systems seem comparable. Because after 1st generation immigrants, race is more linked to identity within a society.

Asians perform better on tests when they are reminded beforehand of their heritage because it reinforces their own stereotype of themselves. African Americans perform worse. There are racial subgroups in most diverse nations (including Japan) that have the same effects going on, despite the fact that to a foreigner there would be no appearance on

But to say that in some way African Americans are "comparable" to people in Africa, or to say that of non-1st-generation Asian immigrants, doesn't really seem fair.

Frankly, on a more personal note, I found this analysis to be structurally unsound.

What I take away is that America spends more money on its schools than any country vs. Luxembourg, but doesn't have the highest test results. So throwing money at the problem may not be the right way to fix it. Or it may have some impact, but its going to be like running water through a leaky fire hose.

We haven't developed the right educational system yet. A lot of smart people are working on this issue, and probably the right solution is to throw more money at them specifically.

I see that the problem is not the money but how to use it, the main problem is deciding where to put the money in and i think you're right , and i also think that there are different problems in different parts of the USA. In Spain,being much smaller than USA , they don't have the same problems in a school in the center of Madrid than in Barcelona or Bilbao, different problems need different solutions, but it must be a nightmare to find solutions for each area in a country as big as the USA

And you don't find the idea that in terms of education potential, the author's assumption that there is something fundamentally different about Americans of Asian, Caucasian or African descent just a little bit creepy?

Like I said: I totally buy into the immigrant argument (including the language barrier) but to only compare Whites from the US to Europe (for a supposed "like for like" comparison), you're going beyond language and culture and introducing race as a variable.

And no this isn't some kind of crypto-racist accusation. I just don't see how you can reasonably differentiate between someone of Chinese descent whose ancestors came here in the 19th century to build the railroads to someone of Irish descent who came here a century ago.

And you don't find the idea that in terms of education potential, the author's assumption that there is something fundamentally different about Americans of Asian, Caucasian or African descent just a little bit creepy?

That's not an assumption, it's just a possibility the author is attempting to control for.

I just don't see how you can reasonably differentiate between someone of Chinese descent whose ancestors came here in the 19th century to build the railroads to someone of Irish descent who came here a century ago.

The simplest way to reasonably differentiate between them is to look at them:



You seem to be asserting that allowing for the possibility that cultural or biological factors might affect educational outcomes is creepy. Is that an accurate assessment?

And what bearing would these visual differences have on education, pray tell?

People don't only have stereotypes about others.

A lifetime of people looking at you and reacting to you causes you to perform differently. Performance can change surprisingly quickly. Researchers have found that reminding people of their ethnic identity before they take a test will affect their performance on the test in accord with racial stereotypes. (Asians improve, blacks get worse.)

While it is politically correct to try to be colorblind, reality doesn't cooperate. You can be PC and pretend those effects aren't there. Or you can be intellectually honest and honestly look at how big an impact they have.

(That said, we can and should reduce the size of those effects. However we can't even begin to have a proper discussion of how to do that as long as we shoot the messenger that tells us that the effect is there.)

Hopefully not much. The visual differences simply demonstrate that they are separate and mutually distinguishable groups.

The numbers quoted in the main article demonstrate that these groups do differ in some characteristics which affect education, although they don't illuminate which ones in particular.

African Americans (and Asians) are excluded from comparison simply because Finland doesn't have them.

Oh yes, Finland has a lot of Africans and Asians (just not proportionally as many as the US "melting pot").

So your editorialized title should have been:

After correcting for demographics, US whites fare better than EU/Asian schools

and that my friend was pretty racist editorialization (if it makes any sense at all to compare apples to oranges)!

>And you don't find the idea that in terms of education potential, the author's assumption that there is something fundamentally different about Americans of Asian, Caucasian or African descent just a little bit creepy?

Actually, I find creepy your suggestion that this is creepy. It's obviously true that there are differences between ethnicities, both genetic and cultural, and the notion that we should pretend this isn't the case is a bit Orwellian.

Controlling for exogenous variables is not creepy, but I find the focus on "ethnicity descent" a bit weird when it is the sole parameter being checked. For example, how does this study make sure that there is no other explanatory variable hidden in the country of origin (like e.g. household income) ? He mentions that the US spend a lot of money on education, but since he removes a big part of the students in each country, conclusions are much more difficult to draw: I would expect the money spent per student to be significantly different depending on demographics, for example.

Also, the text uses all encompassing categories with straw man arguments about PISA tests comparison. For example, I can tell you that when the scores went out last year and was discussed in French news, nobody was bragging about how smarter we were compared to the US given how bad the results were for France. He makes some interesting points, but it is hidden within too much authoritative argumentation, which weakens his analysis IMO.

IOW, I think it is an interesting starting point, but it is too crude to make any conclusion, especially the ones he is trying to draw.

Controlling for exogenous variables is not creepy, but I find the focus on "ethnicity descent" a bit weird when it is the sole parameter being checked.

I'm guessing it's less creepy when you take into account that it's just an easily googleable factor.

By the way, the fact that you exclude lots of students is irrelevant, as long as you keep enough to be statistically significant. That's true even when he throws away all non-asian students in the US.

As for household income, that's an even shadier factor to include, since the US is significantly richer than most European nations. Holding income equal, you'd be comparing our 60'th percentile to Sweden's 40'th percentile (numbers made up, but something along those lines).

That it is googleable does not make it relevant.

I don't understand how excluding students is not relevant when discussing about money spent per student: the point is indeed to keep enough to be statistically significant, but w.r.t. what is measured. If money spent by student varies significantly within different demographics, systematically ignoring some demographics alters the validity of the comparison. Maybe it does not, but that needs to be controlled, otherwise it is nonsense statistically speaking.

As for household income, I was not suggesting to use raw numbers, it should of course be normalized, e.g. something like purchase parity, although there may be better ways to do so. It seems difficult to argue that this is shadier than anything related to ethnicity which has no clear definition that I know of.

The fact that it significantly altered the outcomes is what makes it relevant.

As for the section on per-student spending, that is indeed weaker for the exact reason you describe.

The US is richer than most EU countries and adjusting for PPP only exacerbates this (the US is pretty cheap). Here are PPP-adjusted numbers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_household_...

That is significantly alter the outcome does not make it relevant - it only suggests it may be relevant. The typical example is explaining education success in terms of tv hours views/days during primary education. The variable has a strong prediction power, but it is not really explanatory, as proved when you control with involvement of parents. I feel the same weakness in his analysis.

As for the PPP numbers you gave, they are average, but the whole point of the analysis is to go away from the average, and look at specific demographics. There is no reason to believe they split the same ways in different countries for the same demographic. Maybe the variable is not relevant, but I would be surprised not to see it controlled.

(I would also challenge the fact that US are cheap, but I don't think it is so relevant to the discussion).

Explanatory is a subset of relevant. Furthermore, using a correlated factor as a proxy for the explanatory one is perfectly legitimate if you are attempting to make an unrelated comparison.

(I.e., if "European descent" is correlated with "good home environment" or other exogenous predictors (the data shows it is), and you are comparing EU schools to US schools, it's utterly reasonable to control for "European descent" if data on those exogenous predictors is unavailable.)

As for PPP numbers, the gap often becomes larger when you compare like to like. The same blog did a very good job of this (focusing on not only European Americans, but actually narrowing down to Swedish Americans) a while back:

USA vs Sweden: http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/03/income-distributio...

Swedish-USA vs Sweden: http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/03/super-economy-in-o...

I don't understand "explanatory is a subset of relevant". If it does not (partially or not) explain the observed result, how can you decide whether it is relevant ?

As for the other links, I don't see numbers related to PPP, but maybe I misunderstand those graphs (I don't understand income per unit of consumption). I also don't see how he can deduce the difference is coming from gvt differences. I am only familiar with statistics, so I may be missing the subtlety of a field I am unfamiliar with (economy), but those analysis seem quite superficial to me. Certainly, they don't warrant such strong conclusions.

'Purchasing power parity' seems to work quite well for most economists.

You're right, there are no African-Americans or Asian-Americans in Finland… There are some African-Finns and Asian-Finns though.

Statistically, probably not much of a difference if you subscribe to the theory that there would be. I was just correcting the implication that there were none.

oh yes, there is more than enough to fuel anti-immigrant sentiment in finns. I'm sorry, but I live nearby and know those things.

Yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're enough to influence education statistics. It could mean, for example, that Finns are just easily riled up in general.

Ethnic groups in Finland, from Wikipedia:

Finnish 93.4%

Finland-Swedes 5.6%

Russians 0.5%

Estonians 0.3%

Roma 0.1%

Sami 0.1%

The Finland-Swedes are essentially Finns anyway, so you are talking about 99% homogenous population.

I moved to Finland a couple of years ago and have two kids at school. The key differences I see (compared to Aus) are:

  - later start (7 years old grade 1)
  - hot lunches
  - every kid gets the same education, almost no private schools,  no advantage in going to a different school 
  - multiple languages are taught
  - teaching is quite a prestigious and reasonably well paid occupation
  - lots of small schools (they scale wide, not high, from a hardware perspective)
Of course these are basic observations, not a study. I have no idea how they get such good results, but they do.

>teaching is quite a prestigious and reasonably well paid occupation

I'd put money on this being at least an order of magnitude more important than all the other factors put together.

If I recall correctly, that doesn't hold up within the US. Dollars spent on education don't correlate all that closely with regional performance IIRC.

Yes, I think that there are significant cultural and economic differences and it is quite complex, and of course dollars spent on eduction doesn't equal dollars spent on teachers.

A hypothesis: In a social democracy like Finland, you will probably join the large middle class. So when you choose your desired vocation before university you may be more likely to apply your excellent skillset to teaching rather than something else, as that's what you want to do and are suited for, and you'll probably earn close to everyone else anyway.

In some other countries, you may try to get in to law/medicine/business first, and use teaching as a fallback as it is much lower paid. The net result is that teaching can be seen as a second choice profession and not valued as highly socially. Saying "I'm a teacher" at the barbeque sends a signal that you maybe didn't do so well at school as you wanted, and got your second choice at uni.

I know of a couple of data points where this is true in Aus (and also where it is not), but I don't know if it is really widespread. Just a thought.

I don't think dollars spent correlates with the prestige of teaching - perhaps not even with compensation, given the bureaucracy inherent in the system, though that's pure speculation.

A few more:

  Teachers are given freedom to design curriculum and choose textbooks, i.e. quite entrepreneurial approach
  No national tests of learning outcomes
  No school league tables or rankings
  Plenty of (early) attention focused on individual support for the struggling learners
The best students could be underserved, because they advance at the pace of the average (or worst) students.

The prevailing social norms have some drawbacks. Equal opportunities is a good starting point, but too often we like to punish success as a way of keeping the perceived inequalities at minimum. In some way, we can't handle success. There's not enough competition to reach the top. Quite the opposite, envy and such emotions are often not agents for activating people (as in the American dream). More often they create passivity. We're only too happy to be all middle class.

You lived there for a couple of years and you haven't seen any blacks or asians in Helsinki?

Because every time I travel north I notice quite a lot of them compared to here in Tallinn where there's virtually nil of both.

There's certainly enough of them there that I keep hearing angry anti-immigrant sentiment from finns.

Edit some examples:



No, I didn't say that - what gave you that impression? Did you read the grandparent?

Finland is also not just Helsinki, you know.

oh, you didn't indeed. I just thought we were arguing here whether Finland had enough immigrants for them to make a dent in education statistics. And the answer is resounding yes.

also, Helsinki clearly isn't the whole Finland, but most African and Asian immigrants do live in Helsinki.

Based on race alone? I can understand culture being an important factor. But not race.

Factoring out race is the easiest way to factor out culture. Would you not agree?

No, not at all.

On a large scale, what would be an easier way to control for so-called "black culture"?

income. As noted elsewhere in this thread, many of the ascribed self-defeating attitudes are endemic to indigenous (>1 generation) lower socio-economic strata across the 'racial' spectrum. Yes, there are vestiges everywhere, I'd start there.

all purchasers of the pants which size is 120% wider and 120-150% longer than wearer requires.

Comparing light-skinned Americans with light skinned Finns is not comparing "like to like", it is making an arbitrary comparison based on false assumptions. "race" as we tend to think of it isn't a very scientific concept.

Not scientific, no. But many people self-identify by race and model their behavior on those who look like them. Not all. But many.

that has no bearing on the discussion of the validity of comparing people who look alike but live in different countries. a white finn might look like me, but i have no idea how i would go about modelling my behavior on them.

Hmm, that's not what I meant to communicate.

And now that I try to rephrase it in my head, I see that you're right about the relevance (or lack thereof). I was trying to say that there can be a difference between, say, blacks and whites (and Asians and...) even though they aren't "races"; but of course that doesn't have much to do with the subject in this comment thread.

My understanding of the problem with US schools is that they are funded by the taxes of the surrounding neighbourhood. Thus, a low income neighbourhood will have low quality schools. Even if a student does well in one of these schools, their chances for getting into a good university are still low due to the poor reputation of the school.

I'm Canadian and this information came from talking to someone working in the Detroit area school system. So I'd appreciate any corrections or extra details. But, if this is correct, it seems to me that taking only those of european decent into account would completely hide the problem, as most europeans do not move into extremely poor areas.

How exactly does this apply to, say, the African American segment of the population, many of whom have been in the US for hundreds of years and most of whom know no other language than English?

"English" (at least as practiced in the USA) is not a singular thing. Go have a conversation with a "native" English speaker in inner city Baltimore or the backwoods of Georgia and I suspect that you'll spend a lot of time asking people to repeat themselves.

edit: well someone apparently thinks this comment doesn't add to the discussion, so let me try to clarify: most everyone speaks "English" in the USA, but not the same "English". There are accents of course, but there are also different terms to reference the same thing ("pop" vs "soda" vs "coke", "grinder" vs "sub" vs "hoagie"), different pronunciations ("ask" vs "aks", "nuclear" vs "nukuler") and then you have regions like New Orleans where foreign words are regularly mixed in with English.

For those that have the time, I recommend slogging your way through this ArsTechnica thread for a more in depth explanation of what I'm trying to say: http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=112892... (if you don't have a lot of time, start on Page 3)

I see what you're getting at but the examples you give- everyone knows what all of those words mean. Someone may say "pop" but they still know what soda is. People who say "aks" are not confused by the word ask.

Well those weren't exhaustive examples, but I'd still disagree - for the longest time, I though "hoagie" was a polish food (I grew up in "grinder" territory) and I was mystified the first time someone asked me to pick up an "orange coke" at the drug store.

Another example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03iwAY4KlIU it's all English, and you can often get a general meaning from context, but the vid gives examples of words I've never heard, or more familiar English words used in combinations that obscure the meaning. So of course you can take someone from the video and drop them in NYC and they'll be able to function, but there will likely be things they miss and things NYCers will miss talking to them. Now in a school environment, that can make a huge distance.

Further illustration: In my area, I hear both "sub" and "hoagie" used to refer to different varieties of the sandwich. I'm not positive what the dividing line is, but it seems like hoagies are generally less healthful than subs.

The implication of comparing PISA scores unfavorably is that the US should then imitate other countries in order to improve. Another option is that we synthesize our own ways to improve education. That's what this article is really addressing... the implication is not that we should not try to do better, but how.

who are the people "of US descent"?

This is a common problem when looking at the US as a whole compared to many other countries. The US is a huge, very diverse place. When I travel to the NE, then to the south, and finally to the west coast it feels like I've been in 3 different countries. The language while still english is slightly different, the attitudes are different, and the people are different. In this environment it really does make sense to have less federal involvement and more local involvement since each locale likely has completely different issues.

On the whole it makes much more sense to start breaking the US into regions when doing comparisons with other countries. From there we might be able to find the real problems and look for focused, local solutions.

I try to explain North America to others like this:


It's actually very interesting. Anecdotally, as somebody who grew up in a "Foundry" area...when I think of moving to another city, other Foundry cities come up first in my mind as places I want to live. I never really attributed it to regionalism but I suppose it makes a kind of sense. Even regions geographically close to mine don't have the same kind of draw as those close to mine.

nice! From now on, I will be a Mexamerican.

Nice, thanks for this. :)

Along those lines, I would recommend to anyone to try to live in as many of these different regions of the country as possible. Visiting is one thing, but by actually living and creating roots in such different communities you end up seeing what makes America(and IMHO why it is so great). You often hear people talking about why living abroad is so great, but we often forget the diversity we have right here.

"Libertarians in the United States have often claimed that the public school system (which has more than 90% of the students) is a disaster."

The Libertarian argument isn't that public schools are a disaster. Their argument is that the federal government shouldn't be involved in education and it should instead remain a local or state issue where people have more direct control over the system.

That's one of the philosophical arguments (though many libertarians don't think state or local governments should be doing schools either), but it's also quite common for libertarians to argue that one reason people should support their view is that the current public schools are a failure and thus need major reform.

There are two types of libertarians, consequentialist libertarians and natural rights libertarians.

They come to more or less the same conclusions, but for entirely different reasons. The former's argument appeals to the efficiency and productivity perceived to be afforded by a libertarian society. The latter has everything to do with whether or not the existence of, say, public schools is just. Either side will tend to argue that you, luckily, don't have to choose between prosperity and justice, but always fall back to their philosophical roots.

That reminds me of an interesting counterfactual that I believe Ilya Somin proposed (he's a libertarian law professor born in the USSR). Most market advocates believe communism, and especially the USSR's version of central-planning, strong-state authoritarian communism, was wrong as a matter of principle.

But what if the USSR had managed to keep a high standard of living, comparable to how it did quite well in science? And let's say it also avoided some of the worst bouts of mismanagement, like the large famines. Even libertarians who argue that central planning is inefficient might grant that it's at least hypothetically possible that the USSR could've turned out much better / less badly than it did, had a few things and personnel been different. What would people think of it then?

His guess (iirc) is that, unfortunately from his viewpoint, the USSR is as unpopular as it is basically because it "didn't work": it had a lower standard of living than the capitalist west, large famines, etc. If it were authoritarian but "worked", so East Germans and Muscovites had the same televisions and cars as West Germans and Parisians, he fears the anti-communism consensus would not really be strong at all.

This reminds me of when I explain relativity to laymen, and say that experiments have confirmed predictions made by the theory, and they respond be asking me, what if they hadn't? It's an odd form of ill-founded question: if special relativity is true, then experiments must confirm it. You can't disconfirm a true theory except by living in a different universe.

My circuitous point is, the "hardline" libertarian/anti-communist answer to your question is that the USSR was fundamentally incapable of having turned out better. For them, the USSR failing is the same as the experiments that relativity: they are an inescapable result of a fundamental, unchangeable conclusion. You can't just ask "well, what if it had worked" for the same reasons you can't ask "well, what if the experiments disproved relativity?" Experiments can't disprove relativity because it's true, and communism can't work because it's fundamentally ill-founded. To ask what would happen in a world where communism worked is akin to asking what would you drink if hydrogen and oxygen didn't combine to form water.

Please note that I'm playing Devil's Advocate here. I, personally, think that the USSR could have turned out better if it were managed better, although I don't consider myself educated enough on the topic to say how much better. My personal opinions aside, my point is, asking "what if the USSR had worked out better?" is not something you can so easily just ask someone. For some axioms, functional communism is a false statement, and you can't introduce contradictions into an axiomatic system and result in anything coherent. Some people see the USSR failing as an experiment confirming a true statement, not data that serves as evidence for or against a statement.

As far as your hypothetical though, I do think that if the USSR's failing was a contingent, rather than fundamental, result, and if it had not failed or at least turned out less poorly, then that would dampen people's opinions against it. Consider that even with the weight of the evidence against it, there are still people who view it as a nice ideal (with varying opinions of attainability). As the practical evidence gets more ambiguous, that viewpoint looks more reasonable.

"But what if the USSR had managed to keep a high standard of living, comparable to how it did quite well in science?"

That experiment is currently being performed in China.

I don't think communism is inherently unjust. When practiced in its ideal form by people with no selfish instincts, it could be quite a nice system.

Capitalism is simply a way to harness people's natural selfish motives for the good of society. Neither system is morally superior to the other; it's just that in a state populated by humans, one works a lot better than the other.

Wait, who says the USSR wasn't effective? However bad things were during communist rule, they were worse beforehand. Not to mention that it brought one of the most heavily battered combatants in WWII to become a superpower afterwords.

Plus, there are plenty of examples of capitalist governments that have had famines and such. India is a notable example.

I don't want to open a can of worms, but there's a hefty debate behind your insightful (but succinct) comment. I feel like a couple counterpoints to your statements are in order, though.

If the quality of life of the USSR increased, we need to ask two questions. Would it have increased more or less under a more liberal regime? How are you factoring in the murder of tens of millions of people? Even low end figures show that 5% of the peak Soviet population was slaughtered or imprisoned.

Regarding India's woes, systems of government/economy are in no way a panacea. Besides, India's economy was extremely communist, almost explicitly modeled after the USSR. India only turned to liberalizing their markets recently, even later than China.

India began on socialistic ideals and the streak continues somewhat to the current day (it has reduced immensely since the liberalization in the early 90's). That being said I do not recall India or its economy being communist at any point. (There is a Communist Party of India to this day but it has never been significant on the national stage).

Wikipedia can tell you more, but India employed 5-year plans and nationalized a fair share of industries, among other things.

Many people in the West during the cold war did not recognize how bad off people were in the communist block. American communists claimed that health care in the Soviet Union was superior to that in the US, and due to the tight control of information by the Soviets, it was very hard to prove otherwise.

I think people may be conflating corporatism with libertarianism.

Even more broadly, we[1] argue that the government shouldn't control[2] education, but, rather, that the parents should.

This could well include even the decision of whether education is enough of a public good to be supported by taxes.

Personally, I think it is, so I strongly favor a system that allows parents to pay for private schools with public money, such as vouchers.

[1] I can't speak for the Libertarian Party, whom I consider a tad extreme, though I consider myself a small-L libertarian

[2] Involvement at all would be too all-encompassing a proscription.

Libertarians also point out that school spending has been rising over time with no corresponding rise in national test scores.


I would be surprised if these international test scores showed any correlation to changing spending either.

I think the author actually mispoke and meant to say Liberals, not libertarians...

No, he already said that Liberals like to say that public schools are bad so the government can spend more money on them.

He has a strawman argument for conservatives, too.

And then Texas would refer to slavery as the "triangular trade system" see here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/16/texas-schools-re...

Texas's extremely-conservative state board of education will be changing soon, because at least one of the hard-line board members who pushed the "reforms" mentioned in the Guardian article was subsequently voted out of office in favor of a more-moderate candidate. (I think two of the hard-liners got the boot.)

So you are assuming then that your preference over their preference would win a majority vote in congress? Local control protects liberal leaning policies as much as nutty ones.

I'm not defending liberal leaning policies at all. I'm pointing out are that there are education standards for a reason. Sorry you don't like facts but that's the reality of the situation.

Having schools conforming to educational standards may be important, but there is a difference between even a country-wide system that proposes (and tests, etc) educational standards, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, government's involvement in education. These two may be completely independent. Indeed, the former (standards) may exist without the latter (government-controlled education).

And, please, avoid ad hominem attacks.

Sorry libertarianism may be popular on HN, but it's almost undoubtedly not the solution to our education problems.

I am all for standards, but never once brought up government controlled education or defended it. Please don't attribute an argument to me that I didn't make, which is exactly what the OP did by inferring that I defend liberal education policies.

There are massive problems in our education system, my mom's a teacher and tells me about them almost every time we talk, but they aren't problems that will be solved by the government stepping back and letting the locals take control. In fact, that'd make things much worse. Teachers are barely accountable for teaching and are pretty much glorified baby sitters for the most part (my mom says this). The kids who do well go to charter schools, or have parents who give them homework, or go to tutors, or go to private school. The kids who don't do well or perform below grade-level have single-parent families, probably living in poverty, and for the most part slip through the cracks in the "system."

I think the first step to the problem is stop throwing away money on things that don't work-- STAR, SAT9, etc standardized testing. The only people benefiting from this are the people who make/sell the tests. Teachers end up forming their curriculum around the tests and it becomes their singular goal to meet/exceed expectations which are based around the last years results. So what you lose are art, music, PE, auto-shop, computer lab classes-- anything that isn't specifically tested. So what happens? Kids hate school because all they're doing is memorizing a bunch of stuff that won't help them in life.

I think some steps in the right direction would be:

-make teachers more accountable for their students success and make tenure based on that

-bring back vocational schools or specialized school (people in the 70s who went to these types of schools could get jobs at Lockheed Martin and Boeing building planes)

-quit wasting time on standardized tests -make school fun -- music, art, photography, PE, computer lab are the classes I remember looking forward to, it keeps you going to school instead of ditching. Possibly even use these classes as an incentive.

-get rid of GATE, it's a self-fulfilling prophesy.

-Teachers should be paid according to how well their students perform/improvements made. This way the best teachers would have an incentive to take on those students struggling instead of the way it currently is where the best teachers teach "honors classes" and have kids with parents who also help teach them while at home or hire tutors.

That's my two-cents and I'll get off my soapbox, but I still think standards are generally a good thing and do more good than harm.

Tests at a primary (elementary) school level are a waste of the teacher's and the students' time. This is not an argument for no govt. provision of education however. The biggest thing that I hear from teachers in NZ is that the Ministry of Ed is doing its best, through a variety of stupid policies regarding untested National Standards for primary school kids, to demote teachers from being education professionals to mere technicians. Teachers have survived for years educating a lot of people with freedom to adapt their delivery of education how they see fit. Now, however, under pressure from all sides to be "accountable" (not real accountability, but performance destroying, lip-service style accountability) teachers are being destroyed as independent professionals as the bureaucracy crushes and bows to political will.

The biggest problem with this political will is that applying pressure to the teachers is politically easy. They get all this holiday, they just play with kids all day "how easy is their job??? zomg" /sarcasm. The real problems with most bad kids start at home and are best addressed with some sort of intervention from the very beginning of the kids life from social workers monitoring the family home and environment and various other early stage policies designed to create and mentor the parents into raising a good child, not a drain on society. But supposedly, policies like this ,which are normally far more effective than simple standardised testing, are "socialism" and therefore bad.

I literally couldn't agree with you more, however my mom who has been a teacher for 30+ years, and is a great one by the way, has admitted many times that once a bad teacher gets tenure it's almost impossible to get rid of them unless they do something truly heinous. That to me is a shame because really it's just harming the kids. I was lucky to have for the most part good teachers growing up and I know that it makes all the difference in the world. My 3rd/4th grade teachers were amaazing compared to my 6th grade teacher. Even looking back I can remember science demos those teachers put on to get us excited to learn, whereas my 6th grade teacher was basically lazy and did the bare minimum.

Tests are a huge waste of time and effort, but they also hijack the curriculum also which is even worse!

-make teachers more accountable for their students success and make tenure based on that...-Teachers should be paid according to how well their students perform/improvements made.

If you throw out the tests, how do you know if students were successful or not, or whether they improved?

>how do you know if students were successful or not

Well, we'd first have to work out why they're there in the first place. Are we trying to maximize their income when they get jobs (in which case there are better metrics, but they'll take longer before you can use them)?. Are we trying to make them 'well rounded citizens' (define it, and then maybe you can test it)? Is it just tax-payer babysitting (school violence would be the only relevant metric than perhaps)?

You could just evaluate the teacher themselves, and as long as they seem to be competent and honest, you could just rely on their evaluations. A kind of 'web of trust' model for testing.

I agree there needs to be some metric, but the standardized testing creates more problems because like I said that goal begins to change the curriculum and become the all encompassing goal.

I'm not sure about the solution to the specific problem you've raised but I'm sure there are better informed people who can solve this. There has to be some solution where kids progress can effectively measure, but also doesn't have the tendency to completely overshadow the curriculum.

The author is clueless about the research in this area. I was formerly the co-founder of a social mobility think-tank so I'm pretty familiar with the work that's been done in this area.

The author's statement "In almost all European countries, immigrants from third world countries score lower than native born kids." is just false.

A quick look at the British data will tell you that students from Chinese or Indian ethnic backgrounds do considerably better than "White British":


This is broadly true in most European countries.

If you look at for example children of Pakistani immigrants, they do much better in some countries such as Canada than they do in the UK. Cross-country studies pretty much all agree the difference is down to parental background.

If the parents have middle-class backgrounds than their children are much more likely to perform better than average (regardless of country of origin).

Essentially by cutting out non-whites he's just disproportionately cutting out the poor and lower-class children which is pushing the scores. It's nothing to do with race. Note particularly how he's treating the ethnicities which are primarily middle-class as "white" (e.g. jews).

The Daily Howler ( http://dailyhowler.com/ ) has been blogging about the "our schools aren't bad, everyone just likes saying they are" for months and months and months. He's talking about this study today as well, and notes the real cause of this isn't really immigration, but the legacy of slavery (blacks score 75 points lower than whites):

"Among those 34 OECD nations, only the United States spent centuries aggressively trying to stamp out literacy among a major part of its population. The legacy of that benighted history lives with us today, although our “reformers” work very hard to avoid such painful discussions."

I'm with you until you point the finger at slavery. Blaming it on the "legacy of slavery" seems to me to be intellectually lazy: first, it is vague to the point of uselessness. Second, it ignores all of the things which have happened since the end of slavery, some of which happened as the part of the aftermath of slavery, but some of which happened for completely independent reasons. It also ignores the fact that slavery ended at very different times, under very different circumstances, in different parts of the country, but those differences largely aren't reflected in test scores or other measures of social or economic success. If we're going to solve the problem, we need to identify the real, proximate causes so that they can be addressed.

I don't have any stats handy, but I've read several times that after the civil war, blacks saw steady improvement in their economic status, on similar (albeit slower) trend to various immigrant ethnicities who faced initial integration troubles, but that this progress stopped and then reversed in the '70s. This reversal correlated very strongly to the rise of out of wedlock births among blacks. I've read that, if you correct for single-parent/dual-parent families, the difference in school performance between all ethnic groups almost completely disappears, even if you don't correct for things like income level or the education level of parents (although those two things also correlate with single/dual-parent status, so correcting for it tends to correct for them to some degree). Did slavery cause marriage and stable families to decline among blacks over a century after the 13th amendment? It seems to me that, just as our society was finally putting "the legacy of slavery" to rest, something else happened to hurt the black community even worse. If we can figure out what it was, we'll be well on our way to closing the gap. Unfortunately, so much damage has been done at this point that I don't think that simply removing the original cause will fix the problem--extra measures will be needed to repair the damage.

something else happened to hurt the black community even worse. If we can figure out what it was, we'll be well on our way to closing the gap.


I would categorize this as more of a catalyst than a cause. Once the breakdown of family norms begins, this would accelerate the process by putting more young black men into prison, turning some of them into absentee fathers, thus normalizing single motherhood. However, strong family structures tend to discourage illegal or risky behaviors like drug dealing or drug use, leading me to believe that something else must have happened to weaken them before large numbers of black men would end up in prison for drug offenses. Furthermore, I doubt if there is much overlap between the set of "guys who would deal illegal drugs for a living" and the set of "guys who would settle down with the girls they impregnated and be good fathers, if only they weren't in prison." In other words, the increase in drug dealing/use (which facilitated increased incarceration due to draconian drug laws) and the increase in single motherhood were not cause and effect, but rather effects of the same root cause.

The problem with the Rockefeller drug laws and subsequent enforcement was the unequal application - despite the fact that whites and blacks use and deal drugs at roughly the same rates, blacks are more likely to be arrested and jailed for drug crimes and given longer sentences.

You talk about "norms" but as was pointed out in another HN thread (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2031655) drug use is essentially a "norm" in the USA. The problem is that only certain segments of the population get punished for it, which leads to not finishing school, not being able to get a job, etc. It certainly is a cause.

Perhaps you are thinking of this:


Wish I could up vote this a hundred times. I also wonder what happened in the 70s. A big cultural change in 'white' America that was copied/amplified in 'Black' America? I can't put my finger on it either, but there really is something concrete about 'family values' that expresses itself for generations.

"I can't put my finger on it either, but there really is something concrete about 'family values' that expresses itself for generations."

I wasn't around at the time, but I think that the social movements of the '60s and '70s threw the baby out with the bathwater. There were definite wrongs that needed to be fixed (segregation being the prime example), but in the process of fixing them we inadvertently damaged key aspects of our societal structure. I think that this happened because of the way our culture lumps together completely unrelated positions into strongly correlated groupings that we label "conservative" and "liberal." As a modern example, consider the fact that people's positions on gun control, abortion, and taxes all tend to correlate very strongly in our country, even though all three are orthogonal (libertarians being an example of people who buck this trend to some degree). In the '60s and '70s, bad things like racism got lumped in with many of the good things we collectively label as "family values," to the point where many of the people fighting against the bad stuff saw the good parts as being part and parcel.

This carries over today: my most liberal friends consider "family values" to be an ugly euphemism for "racism," "homophobia," and "misogyny." They don't make any distinction for the good parts like "get married before you have kids," and "marriage is a serious and important commitment which requires a lifetime of compromise and sacrifice." They think that the bad parts are inherent aspects of the culture, which implies that the only way to get rid of them is to radically change the entire culture. I've even read positions more extreme than those of my friends: people who think the parts I label good, like the institution of marriage, to be part of the problem.

Very insightful. Thanks

I wonder how African-Americans score compared to African-Europeans. It seems that would be a relevant comparison.

"Among those 34 OECD nations, only the United States spent centuries aggressively trying to stamp out literacy among a major part of its population."

I'm Irish, and I'd question the accuracy of that statement - whether the US was unique in that regard.

You could argue over the specifics of what it means 'to try stamp out literacy', but for 100s of years here (Ireland), the native language (Irish/Gaelige), and education through it, got a very tough time from the occupying British government.

More generally, the country had a tough time. The majority of the population (Catholics) had little to no opportunity, and little education ('the penal laws' etc). Many of those who could left as emigrants (going to places such as USA).

Now, Republic of Ireland - the OECD nation - has been around less than 100 years, and we've made big strides in this time. Many peoples parents are now college educated; but this is probably the first generation where that's true.

So, what does it mean to compare the population of Ireland 'corrected for the demography', as is done on the last chart in that page? And then make statements about the legacy of slavery in the USA, using that comparision?

I really think the analysis lies in tatters at that point.

While this post is - clearly - raising interest in the measurement of education (a good thing) the method used is just much too crude to possibly draw the kind of conclusions the author, and others, are making.

There's just too much historical differences between what it means to be an immigrant in different countries, and too much different history, for such crude analysis to support the conclusions drawn.

After correcting for me being short,fat and middle aged I'm an olympic athlete

"Guys, don't panic - our schools are great, as long as you're white!"

If they're failing to educate a large number of students, they're not working as intended.

Thats not what he concludes. It's "as long as your parents are educated".

And he's wrong again. The reason high-SES kids score better on standardized tests isn't because they learn more in school, it's because they learn more at home. In fact low-SES kids actually learn almost as much at school than high-SES kids[1], it's just that they start out 2-3 years behind in Kindergarten[2], and instead of learning over the summer they actually regress[1]. What the data actually shows is that students DON'T learn if they're white, but in a feat of epic illogic this guy has somehow managed to convince himself that the opposite is true.

[1] http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED037322.pdf (C.f. figure 2 and 3)

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Meaningful-Differences-Everyday-Experi...

He didn't control for parental education, he controlled for recent immigration status.

It seems like he is using immigration status as a proxy for parental education level. As he later notes the effect is non existent and in fact opposite in Canada and Australia which he attributes to the skills based immigration system.

Which is unfortunate because parental education and income are in the dataset. I wish I had the time to sift through it.

The main reason I "think" liberals want to poor money into the public school system, is because most teachers/educators are liberals. If there was a study of politcal parties in the American Education system, it would vastly weigh towards most educators are Liberals/Democrats.

That would mean, by itself, pretty little. They could be liberals due to the liberal stand on education, not the other way around.

I seem to recall a similar study I heard about a while ago, showing that although the average life expectancy of Norway was a lot higher than that of the US, people of Norwegian descent in the US tended to live longer than those in Norway.

Whats the crime ratio. How many people get murdered in the US compared to Norway. Those numbers you speak of are scued not to a persons health, but to how long they actually live. Maybe taking a survey of everyone above 50 of each country since they have grown past many stupid accidents and are less prone to being killed and see what the ratio is then...

The murder rate in industrialized countries is much too low to have a significant effect on life expectancy. The vast majority of people die of disease or accident. 15k people were murdered of 300m in the US in 2009. That's 0.005% of people per year, meaning roughly 0.3% of people die from murder.

> Whats the crime ratio. How many people get murdered in the US compared to Norway.

The US has a higher murder rate. That tends to push down the lifespan. Are you suggesting that Norwegians in Norway are more likely to be murdered than Norwegian-Americans?

Correcting for demographics, US schools are great. Correcting for demographics, the US doesn't have a disproportionate number of incarcerated citizens. Correcting for demographics, the US doesn't have much of a jobless problem. I couldn't decide which was more charming, the claim that Americans of European descent (65% of the population) are not some sort of elite, or the call to compare African Americans to those in their "home nations". The US is their home nation! This article is racist rot.

Actually, only the former may be correct, and in any case, it is the only claim that is discussed in the paper.

If you close your eyes you will not be able to see if a problem exists, identify it, find a solution and follow it through. And calling people names would not help either.

Any time taxpayers are paying real money for something, one part of the value proposition is price. I have lived outside the United States, and I have a first-generation immigrant to the United States in my immediate family, and I live in an ethnically diverse ("race" or place or birth considered) neighborhood, with supposedly good public schools. What most analyses like this ignore to too great a degree, and what most of the more than 100 comments posted here so far aren't focusing a lot on is how much provision of government-operated schooling costs in the United States compared to what it costs in other countries. By most reasonable standards of comparison, United States schools provide less learning added to learners per dollar of inputs than most schools in quite a few other OECD countries. That's apparent whether one looks at a variety of comparisons of mathematics achievement (a crucial educational goal), or second-language achievement (a goal often neglected in the English-speaking United States), or in science achievement (a safeguard against irrational public policies). Having grown up in the United States, and having lived overseas for two separate three-year spans, the second one with my children, I can't be complacent about the provision of government-operated schools in the United States.

It's important to know what sort of problems US schools face. It seems likely based on a lot of evidence (anecdotal and otherwise) that US schools are no worse than EU and Asian schools. However, American schools do have a different problem because we can't simply accept the inability to educate a huge subset of American students merely due to their culture or ethnicity. Less diverse countries may seemingly have an easier problem in education, but that doesn't get rid of our need to cultivate a literate and educated citizenry.

But there are even bigger unexamined issues at play here. Firstly, are we able to accurately measure quality of education through these studies? Given the increasing reliance on college degrees as necessary credentials for basic competency in core skills such as literacy and math it seems likely the answer is no. Secondly, what confidence do we have that modern public schooling provides any educational value? Given the similarity of educational achievement on standardized tests across much of the developed world when adjusted for socio-economic status one has to wonder. How much of a students basic educational competency would they acquire regardless of public schooling merely due to the educational status and expectations of their parents and peers?

Followup: consider a "control" experiment (which, due to ethics cannot be conducted) whereby schools are replaced with "classrooms" of hundreds of students and a single custodian. There is no curriculum, there is no teaching, students sit for several hours a day at desks. They are allowed only to read or write, sit doing nothing, or do anything that looks vaguely like doing homework (though it could be doodling), as long as it's done quietly. Every month their parents are asked to fill out a survey of how they think their children are doing education wise, but there are no consequences attached to any of this.

Now, the big question is how would students fair in terms of education in this experiment relative to existing schooling, especially when correlated by socio-economic and cultural background? I highly suspect that we'd get similar results to today's educational system. Kids with educated and/or affluent parents would tend to acquire some modicum of education, other students would do less well.

The work the OP has done tends to lead to this conclusion which is not anything like an endorsement of the current public educational system.

A few thoughts that occurred to me:

What is PISA? Why do they only target 15-16 year-olds? Are they a representative sample?

Can the entire test be lumped into 3 categories: Math, Science, and Reading? All of these subjects are interrelated.

Anyone can play with these numbers until a preferable conclusion is made. For example, the first graph that the article presents makes Greece look half as competent as Finland.

PISA is a set of standardized triennial tests organized by the OECD.

There's a better article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/are-public-educa...

The real point is that this person is controlling probably more for wealth/income than anything else.

But the problem persists. If most of our country is being educated as if it was a third world country, what does that say for the future of the US?

"In almost all European countries, immigrants from third world countries score lower than native born kids. Why? No one don’t know exactly why." might want to adjust this, has a double negative and feels awkward to read

"After correcting for demographics..."

GOOD students will do fine in almost any school system. I think what makes a difference is how you motivate the kids with problematic backgrounds.

Excluding them from studies is certainly NOT the solution.

This reflects human biodiversity. When you compare groups with similar evolutionary backgrounds they have similar levels of intelligence.

"So much for the bigoted notions that Americans are dumb and Europeans are smart."

Yes, let's move to other bigoted notions...

Perhaps I missed it but why not consider mean racial IQ as a factor in the differences found.

tl;dr: We manipulate data until the US looks good.

This is fairly mind-blowing to me, and if this argument is true, then we need to look at education reform a different way.

The best way to describe this argument is "not even wrong."

Judging the quality of our schools solely by using standardized tests to compare our students with students in other countries is moronic, and excluding minorities is even more so. Yes, of course parenting and culture have an enormous effect on student outcomes, but this data doesn't actually illuminate anything of use. Don't get me wrong, it makes an interesting talking point, but there's nothing here that you can actually use to make schools better.

No, "not even wrong" is a pretty crappy way to describe this argument. "Not even wrong" implies a non-falsifiable claim.


The claims made by this article are easily falsifiable: do a more accurate ethnicity-based slicing of the data and show that US schools fare poorly as measured by standardized tests.

You may not find the results useful for your chosen aims ("make schools better"), but that's irrelevant. Is evolution also "not even wrong" because it can't be used to "make schools better"?

Good call, I was misusing it as a synonym for mu, in the sense of challenging the assumptions behind a question.

I think that's the point. There IS nothing that needs to be done to make schools better. Reforms need to happen culturally and at home.

I don't understand how that follows from the data? Even comparing apples to apples, so to speak, the US is at the 25th %ile. With most countries above (and below) being likely countries, once you exclude the poorest 35% from our country.

To put it another way -- stacking the cards in our favor should really put us a lot higher up the stack, considering he didn't control from spending or income.

"There IS nothing that needs to be done to make schools better. Reforms need to happen culturally and at home."

Except for that the reason kids aren't learning at home is largely because of the design and culture of school.

It's a very old story: But if compare students in Finland with students in the US with ancestors from Finland, then might have something. Similarly compare students in Nigeria with students in the US with ancestors from Nigeria. But do NOT compare all students in the US with all students in Finland.

To heck with Nigeria and Finland. Instead, there is a general result: For some positive integer n of, say, a few dozen, take n relatively homogeneous populations. Give the tests. Take the best, say, 5 populations on that test. Now, for population n + 1, take a 'mixture' of the populations of the n other populations, give the test, and compare with the top 5. Then very likely population n + 1 loses. This is true just by a simple convexity argument that never mentions Finland, Nigeria, or the US but still does explain why the US has a hard time beating the best of the homogeneous countries.

The NYT, the McKinsey study, etc. won't tell you any of this.

I'm taken aback by this whole discussion. For all the bashing that goes on in HN about schools being glorified test prep centers and not living up to their potential for educating students, we sure are quick to accept "studies" like this that use test scores as an indicator of intrinsic worth of the educational system in a country.

"After correcting for demographics..."

I didn't read the article, but isn't that just a fancy way of saying "certain people are smart and certain people aren't. We just have a lot of stupid people."

I exaggerate, of course, but that's how it looks from a cursory glance.

Correcting for demographics is the one thing we cannot do in measuring education's effectiveness, as the purpose of an education is for folks to gain habits and be able to do things in the real world -- a world that does not care which demographic you belong to.

You should read the article. Because that is really not what it says.

One of the major demographic things corrected for is the fraction of the country that is made up of immigrants. First and second generation immigrants perform significantly worse in school, and this relation holds across most countries. (The significant exceptions are Australia and Canada, which have a skill-based immigration system that selects immigrants who are likely to perform better in school.)

It is worth noting that the author was an immigrant from Iran to Sweden. (I don't know whether the author has since moved elsewhere.) Furthermore the author in the comments very strongly comes out against the notion that any race is naturally less intelligent than any other.

I think you've got race on the brain and are missing the point.

You can't externally label and measure groups of people -- by race, by income, by percentage of immigrants -- as part of an effort to improve education outcomes.

This is management by statistical measurement, and it's fraught with problems, the basic one is that it confuses measurement with meaning, correlation with causation.

Externally-defined statistical measurements are attractive, as they claim to give understanding. But in reality they provide very murky value at best.

Take a look at http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_-EMpadQx4hM/TRKZ5kB-49I/AAAAAAAAAY... and tell me again that it is appropriate to ignore immigration levels in judging how effectively the education system is doing its job of educating students. (Note that the exceptions of Australia and Canada are discussed in the article.)

When factors that big are out of the control of the education system, a proper analysis of the performance of the education system itself should not ignore them. The resulting outcomes may not be what is wanted, but that is not necessarily the fault of the schools.

I looked at the link, and I also read the article.

Full analysis here: http://bit.ly/i8WTbA

My summary of your analysis. People aren't statistics so you shouldn't form your opinions about anything involving people using statistical data.

I'm sorry, but that trips my BS detector. It lets you believe anything you want to believe, and makes those beliefs impervious to any data you might be presented with.

If you don't believe me, then ask yourself these questions. What experiment can you imagine setting up that would convince you that immigrants truly are at a disadvantage of school, even when the school tries? What experiment can you imagine that could convince you that significant academic gaps between ethnic groups are not within the realistic ability of the school system to fix?

I suspect the answer is that nothing could ever convince you. In which case your belief is a position of religious faith, and is impervious to any form of data.

By contrast I accept that student performance is affected by many factors, some of which are out of the ability of schools to control. Schools can't readily fix what language you were raised with, your family's attitude towards education, various other possible problems at home, the effects the stereotypes have on self-image, and cultural differences around things like what age it is appropriate to start having children. Yet those things are strongly tied to your ethnicity, and have a significant impact on your academic performance.

How big a factor is this? How difficult to control? I don't know. But when presented with data that suggests that it is enough to explain the educational differences between the US and other industrialized countries, I'm not going to throw it out out of hand. And conversely if presented with different data that says it is not enough, I'm not going to throw that out either. I'm going to read both analysis, and form the most educated opinion that I can.

I'm going to try to throw aside all this emotional content and go at your point, mainly because I think you might learn something here.

Look -- I don't care about immigrants, one way or the other. Statistically, sure, you can make a measurement that has a correlation. Good for you. Lots of measurements and correlations in the world.

To directly answer your question, why would I go about conducting an experiment to show that immigrants are at a disadvantage? To what ends would that serve? What would be the point?

Instead, I might would look at teacher performance, or learning styles, or class size, or school construction, or any one of a million other variables that correlate with immigrants doing a good job. Then I would look for correlation between your immigrant groups and those other variables.

You can pick and choose things to measure and emphasize all day long -- and it doesn't get you anywhere. You want to say that schools are doing a great job and there are factors outside their control that make their outcomes poor in certain circumstances. Fine. I get that. Could be true. Might not be true. Worth exploration.

But the measurement of data and the observation of a correlation is just the initial, total bullshit stage of actually fixing anything. Most of the time correlations don't pan out. Most of the time there are counter-examples to the conclusions you want to reach. Most of the time things change right after you measure them. Most of the time people who don't want/know-how to solve things just sit around making these observations as sort of a chatting class. Most of the time it's nigh impossible to string together any of these correlations into something useful. Something that sounds insightful? Very easy to do. Something that actually has value? Very difficult.

The reality of things is that schools are paid to make a difference, and that there are certain skills that are non-negotiable in our environment. You can add the fact that some schools are doing a very poor job of teaching these skills.

I think those statements are not very provocative.

So, make whatever measurements you want, find whatever correlations you want, build whatever models you want, as long as it further serves the purpose of doing the business of schools: providing an education. If the only purpose is to provide excuses and make ourselves feel better, then it's not really worthwhile. Just go decide you're going to feel that some schools never got a fair shake and be done with it. It's fine with me. It's a perfectly valid point of view to have.

Everything in life is like this, not just schools. You have a job. You do a poor job of it. You either: a) dig down into some data to provide evidence you are not at fault, or b) dig down into some data to start forming models you can test, realizing that the formation of models is only the barest beginnings of anything worthwhile at all. You seem to want to make the measurement, observe the correlation, then announce that it's causal (and then, presumably, go forward to draw some sort of political conclusion)

That's just a bit too far.

How big a factor? How difficult to control? Who knows? Who cares? The point isn't to sit around making observations and bemoaning our ignorance and lack of funds/talent/whatever. The point is that the data is only a very small bit of a solution. We can sit around measuring things and pulling theories out our ass all day long. Not going to help any kids get a better education. The only thing it might do is make us feel better about our preexisting opinions.

I'm not saying that these assertions are false. I simply don't know. All I'm saying is that this type of conversation can go on for a long, long, long time without any useful results. You don't want to do that, either in the real world or with some philosphical school-immigrant problem.

If you like, you can follow the author's suggestion to jump to the graphs to avoid the methodology. But then you'd miss the following important adjustments being made to the figures :

""" So ... let us compare Americans with European ancestry (about 65% of the U.S population, and not some sort of elite) with Europeans in Europe. We remove Asians, Mexicans, African-Americans and other countries that are best compared to their home nations. In Europe, we remove immigrants. """

The author has a clear agenda : Some American citizens are more equal than others.

If you jump to the graph and read what it says on the legend, you would not miss that. It says that right there in the legend on the graphs.

If you read the article, you'll find reasoning for that methodology. Furthermore I suspect that every major ethnic group does better in the USA than in their respective home countries. From the data in the article, it holds true for those of European and Asian descent. Given what I know about the appalling state of education in Mexico, I am sure it applies for Hispanics as well. I know less about Africa, but wouldn't be surprised if the same holds for African-Americans.

I fully agree that we can and should do better about erasing differences, but on the whole I'm happy counting that as a success.

Beside what said by Cletus, I think that the main problem behind that post is that nobody is saying that American are dumb. The problem is that many Americans are ignorant (please don't take offense here), especially regarding things outside the US. For example the italian school system (the only one I really know) sucks big time, and it doesn't prepare students to the real world in any way, but on the other hand it provides a pretty good general knowledge, that helps to have a more open and flexible mind.

In the conversations I've had with Europeans on the internet many have an ignorant, almost comical view of American culture. Perhaps everyone is a bit provincial.

Europeans and American leftists have a tradition of claiming Europe is better than America that goes back centuries. If hard facts aren't at hand, they'll make up soft ones. American schools might be better than Italian ones in every way, so you just claim that Italians have "a more open and flexible mind" - a conveniently unmeasurable quantity. It sounds like you are simply asserting stereotypes as fact.

I flagged this article:

1) poor style, using his own experience to draw vast generalizations

2) clear editorializing, so the author is pushing an agenda and makes no attempt at objectivity

2) data is possibly cooked. For instance, the author says removing recent immigrants in Europe could raise the score by 50 points, then goes on to look at the white population for the US, and it's now 24 points ahead of Europe. So you corrected one country and not the others and are draw huge conclusions from that fact?

He excluded first and second generation immigrants from the European set in his comparison.

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