Wednesday, December 8, 2010

International test scores

Lots of attention given to the poor showing of the US and the high marks received by China in the latest round of high school test results for 65 countries.  The US scores in math, science, and reading were all near the global average, whereas the scores from Shanghai were the world's highest on each dimension.  Of course, Shanghai is the wealthiest city in China and these results are likely to be much higher than those for China overall (remember China is still primarily rural).  Korea, Finland and Singapore were also consistently near the top. 

One finding of this study that deserves further attention is the results for Canada, which placed between 6th and 10th place, again well ahead of the US.  Many commentators blame teachers unions for the poor performance of the US in this type of exercise, while ignoring the fact that a number of states (including North Carolina) are nonunion and manage to have lousy test scores.  Another fact that some countries seem to do just fine (e.g., Finland) even though they have teacher unions.  The Canadian system of higher education shares some similarities, including teacher unions, with the US.  Why are the Canadians accomplishing so much more?  My guess -- and it is just a guess -- lower poverty rates and higher expectations of students. 

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