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I have lived in one of the other countries, know hundreds upon hundreds of people from several of the other countries, and own and have read textbooks from several of the top TIMSS countries, including textbooks written in languages other than English. (I speak, understand, read, and write Chinese to the level of a professional translator and interpreter.) I reject the facile analysis you picked up from a blog post--so far not published in a peer-reviewed journal--by a graduate student who has yet to complete his degree because I have read better research on the subject by authors who have completed their Ph.D. degrees at better academic institutions, and who have published in peer-reviewed journals of high quality. I'm sorry for you if you are stuck on one lame explanation for the phenomenon of underperforming United States schools, but especially if you would take the time and effort to read good-quality dead-tree literature on the subject,





you could learn something new that could help you better understand the other countries in the world and what the United States might learn from them.

You are attempting to make the logical fallacy of arguing from authority. Hacker news is smart enough to see through this.

The only data I've cited is TIMSS data which is published and presumably peer reviewed. It's true that Tino Sanandaji PhD (note: he graduated, not that it matters) pointed this data in a blog post. So what? It's the same data you cite.

The data says the groups of people with top math performance worldwide (circa 2007) are:

    1) Taiwan 598
    2) South Korea 597
    3) Singapore 593
    4) Asian Americans 582
    5) Hong Kong 572 
From this data, how do you conclude that American schools underperform?

I'm not asking if you speak Chinese or whether "hundreds upon hundreds" of your Chinese buddies agree with you. That is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I'm asking you for a logical argument, based on data (in particular the data that you cited), that concludes American schools underperform. Any such argument needs to control for the quality of students, since student test scores are obviously a function of both the school and the students.

If you believe the dead tree books you hint have such an argument, please tell me which book and which pages.

Or feel free to continue making logical fallacies. I'm not really posting for the purpose of arguing with you, I don't expect to learn anything from that. I'm just trying to make sure others reading your posts are not misled by vague assertions that hundreds of unnamed authorities might agree with Chinese speakers like you.

P.S. To make myself appear smart, while providing absolutely no facts, I'll cite dead trees also:



Some more irrelevant facts: I have a PhD, I lived in Asia, I often have sex with Asian women, and I'm a good cook.

I was put off by 'tokenadult's first post (no part of it seemed well argued; it also started out by citing Twain to argue that school board members were "dull"). And as always I appreciate your commitment to rational debate.

But even Asian Americans reliably outperform other ethnicities in American schools, placing in the top 5 in math performance worldwide despite American schools, it does not necessarily follow that American schools are performing adequately.

For instance, Asian families can obviously be supplementing education through private tutors, additional study and demands at home, &c.

It also doesn't follow that just because this system "works" for Asian Americans that it's a reasonable system to apply nationwide. Perhaps Asian families manage this because they're economically advantaged. Perhaps Asian families make unreasonable sacrifices in other areas of their life (by a measure of "reasonableness" along the lines of "benefit to child ends up being worth the cost to the family").

Also worth mentioning, but perhaps not worth dwelling on, that TIMSS includes private schools. How much more likely are Asian Americans to attend private schools than (say) Latino Americans?

Finally, I think this particular debate may be besides the point. We have the ethnic and socioeconomic mix that we have. We do not have the option of being South Korea. So the question is, does the education system we have serve the best interests of mix of students we have today? That's the question this WaPo story is addressing.

I didn't say American schools were performing "adequately" (whatever adequately means), I just said they weren't underperforming. I.e., US schools perform as well as Asian schools for all categories of student we have data on.

I have no doubt that Asian families (in the US, Singapore, Japan, etc) send their kids to Kumon and are terrorized by tiger mothers. Net result: in all these nations, the children of tiger mothers score about 570-600 on TIMSS. So US schools systems educate Asian students pretty much the same as Asian schools.

There is not enough data to compare the results for non-Asian students, since we lack data on (Asian School, Black/Hispanic/White student).

Similarly, people of European descent tend to get scores of about 470-530, with Finland being an outlier at 546. Among this group, Americans of European descent are #6 (at 524). Again, data on (European school, Asian/Black/Hispanic student) student is lacking.


So the data suggests US schools do not significantly underperform either Asian or European schools, at least for the categories of student we have data on.

I.e., if US schools are inadequate, then so are the schools of most of the world.

You are comparing Asian 8th grade scores to the Asian-American 4th grade score. If you compare 8th graders to 8th graders (Asian-Americans scored 549[1]), you'll find that Asian-Americans came in a distant last place among all ethnic East Asians.

Still, somewhat ironically, you are both right. Underperforming ethnic groups in the US bring the average down, and the US educational Prime Directive of making sure the high-performing groups don't get ahead brings it down even farther. While Asian schools work hard to push Asian kids ahead, US schools refuse to do so, because that would just widen "the achievement gap" they're trying so hard to close. So US schools, first in spending, are last in effectiveness for ethnic Asian kids. That "doing the least with most" is school underperformance. The only reason Asian-American kids do as well as they do is that, like their cousins in Asia, they get a lot of their education outside of school.

[1] 2007 TIMSS results: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009001_suptables.pdf Asian scores are on p. 3, Asian-American scores on p. 15

Thanks, my mistake. That's embarrasing, I totally misread wikipedia. Regardless, I do stand by the claim that the bulk of the gap is still explained by ethnicity.

I do agree with you that US schools are not cost effective - I've long been a proponent of cost cutting. In my view, the biggest problem we have with US schools is cost, not quality, and we should focus our efforts on making school cheaper.

You are attempting to make the logical fallacy of arguing from authority. Hacker news is smart enough to see through this.

You field logical fallacies of your own on a regular basis. Indeed, your gratuitous rudeness and sexism borders on ad hominem and is inappropriate here.

From this data, how do you conclude that American schools underperform?

If American schools with heterogenous student bodies* are preparing only one ethnic group to be competitive in international math comparisons, then they are certainly coming up short in other areas. The 'melting pot' is not a new concept in American education and while disparities in language ability, cultural mores, and economic condition present an additional challenge for American educators, addressing these disparities has long been a part of their mission and resources are allocated appropriate.

* It's reasonable to say that American schools serve a more ethnically and culturally diverse student body than the other examples cited here, notwithstanding the relative diversity of Singapore and Hong Kong by regional standards.

> I often have sex with Asian women

Now I'm jealous!

I feel silly wading in after tokenadult has gone diploma waving and you've shouted expeliarmus, but it's worth noting that TIMSS data suffices to show a performance gap between two groups, but doesn't seem to suffice to show that, ceteris paribus, there's a performance gap.

It seems that tokenadult believes there's a mimicable or replicable non-genetic factor, and you believe there's a genetic or otherwise 'unique' factor that indicates a gap that can't be closed. It's probably some combination of the two, but it'd be nice if we could talk about that instead of this other stuff.

No, tokenadult believes the factor lives within the school system, and I'm arguing it does not (by pointing out that different school systems get the same result).

I made no argument as to whether that factor is genetics, tiger mothers, Kumon, etc.

But you don't need to make that argument. If the school system does not perform some trick that is able to obviate a purported genetic bonus, there is a school system factor that's holding back students that don't have this hypothetical genetic or tiger mother bonus.

If you don't give a wheelchair to someone who can't walk, of course they can't get around...

If schools in Singapore don't perform that trick (or if the trick doesn't exist), then Singapore schools are no better than US schools.

Since Singaporean schools have a student body that is roughly 100% Asian, we have no data on whether or not they perform that trick.

Singapore is by no means a homogeneous country. There a re four separate historical groups (Malays, Tamils, Chinese and Europeans) with various subcultures within those groups (you can still find speakers of Chinese dialects in Singapore that you would struggle to find in China). There is also significant recent migration from pretty much everywhere else on the planet to Singapore. Asia isn't one block race where everyone is the same. Please, do some research before you go waving around random statements as fact.

I didn't claim Singapore was homogeneous, I claimed it was predominantly Asian. According to wikipedia, non-Asian groups make up no more than 3.3% of Singapore.


If the tests tend to emphasize memorization (either literally or memorization-of-algorithms), wouldn't that culturally put east asians at an advantage, and intelligent executives who manage a 3 billion dollar budget but are 20 years out of school like the author at a disadvantage?

Are we failing able-bodied people by not giving them wheelchairs and handicapped parking spaces?

A different straw argument - we don't send dogs to preschool, we send them to obedience school, because we recognize certain things need to be different to achieve the same goal - not biting or urinating on everything.

edit: I'm realizing this might just be about effort/actions vs. results. I'm decidedly on the side that results are what we need to compare.

I don't think it's fair to blame a school system for failing to educate the children of a single mother on welfare as well as those with PHD's from Harvard. And I am not suggesting that it's genetic. If you took identical twins and adopted one into each of those family's I would expect to see a similar performance gap.

The US has some 'great' public schools, and some 'terrible' ones. But, the difference has a lot more to do with the students than people are comfortable admitting. The private / public gap in education is also a lot less than you might expect.

I agree, I don't think school systems deserve the blame. They're shouldering what might be considered an unrealistic burden, but this is a potentially major way to improve performance - by recognizing the differences that lie within students and getting 'single-mother-on-welfare' to perform as well as 'book mcbook III'.

The tone of this post is horribly condescending, I feel embarrassed for you. This is the kind of stuff I read HN to avoid.

Sir, your ability to cram as much fallacious argumentum ad verecundiam as possible into a single paragraph is unparalleled. I salute you.

When I looked up the Latin phrase I realized probably if I had to look it up, plenty of other people would too, so I copied the first couple of lines from Wikipedia here to save people the effort.


Argument from authority (also known as appeal to authority or argumentum ad verecundiam) is a special type of inductive argument which often takes the form of a statistical syllogism.

Although certain classes of argument from authority do on occasion constitute strong inductive arguments, arguments from authority are commonly used in a fallacious manner.


Since I'm not logically proving anything, I'll refer to an authority, Strunk and White, who say:

"Avoid foreign languages: the writer will occasionally find it convenient or necessary to borrow from other languages. Some writers, however, from sheer exuberance or desire to show off, sprinkle their work liberally with foreign expressions, with no regard for the reader's comfort. It is a bad habit. Write in English"


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