Post #2: America’s Perception of the US’s K-12 Public Education System

This is the my second post on my project Examining the American Public’s Perception of the United States’ Education System as Failing.

Since my last post, I looked more into international testing of students, cultural differences in how much emphasis is placed on education in different countries, and the merits of different educational systems, among other things.

Lats time I mentioned how most news articles and rankings of a country’s education system are based on its 15 year old students’ performance on the  Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. While this is often the case, rankings and statements on education system quality sometimes rely on data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which tests 4th and 8th graders from some of the same and other similar countries as those that PISA tests. Although TIMSS has been around longer than PISA, it’s a little less well known and doesn’t have quite as much fanatical blind followers. One interesting thing to note however, is that a large amount of countries perform better on the TIMSS than the PISA test and vice versa. For instance, in the most recent PISA (2012) the US is 36th (33rd counting only countries) in math, 28th(25th counting only countries) in science, and 24th(21st counting only countries) in reading out of 65 economics/centuries (62 countries). The US performed slightly below the OECD average. Meanwhile in the most recent TIMSS, the US 8th graders were 9th (7th counting only countries) in math, and 10th (8th counting only countries) in science, out of about 56 countries. The US beat many countries on the TIMSS that had beaten it on the PISA test. Assuming that the 1-2 year age difference between the students being tested isn’t that big of a deal, this is pretty interesting.

Why is there this discrepancy? Well, a lot of it has to do with what types of questions the two tests ask. The TIMSS tends to be more curriculum-based, testing the raw data, formulas, etc that students learned. This type of learning is more akin to what countries like the US and Russia teach their students. Meanwhile the information that PISA tests lends itself well to what and how many European and East Asian Countries teach.

Another interesting thing I’ve found is how different some cultures view education from Americans. In many countries like South Korea and China, primary and secondary schooling is seen as a grueling necessity that will pay off in the future. There is a strong emphasis on standardized testing and in order to gain acceptance into high schools and colleges, students must pass intense exams. The attitude is that hard work and perseverance are the most important thing. This might sound good, but the principle is often followed to a fault. For example in South Korea, it is common for students to get up for school at 6:30 am and not finish their day until 11pm. Their actual school day might only be 6 or 7 hours long, but night schools are extremely common, as are self-study sessions that are proctored by their teachers back at the school in the evenings. Night schools, or “hagwons” as they’re known in South Korea, have gotten so brutal and pervasive that multiple cities have had to pass laws setting 10 or 11pm curfews, banning hagwons from operating past those hours so as to force students to take a break and go home and get some sleep. I read a seemingly crazy article about police conducting raids on hagwons operating after-hours.

Compare that to the US. In the US, passing a law to limit the amount that students can study seems ludicrous. Another downside besides overworked students is the amount of money that families spend on education. While South Korea spends about $7,000 per student, families often spend another $3,000-$4,000 (or more) on private tutors or hagwons.

This relates to how the American public views our education system because it seems that when most people read about our education system, they read about how other countries are passing us. But they don’t get the full context. Some other countries might have higher test scores, but they also overwork their students or spend a ton of private money on education. Leaving out these factors prevents readers from making fully informed opinions.

Next week, I’m going to be comparing the happiness of students, adolescent suicide rates, causes of suicide, levels of stress, time spent at school or learning, and other factors of various countries to see what correlates with high performance on international standardized testing/ a “high quality education system”