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The latest study by IES attempts to document how American eighth graders compare to their peers around the globe. Using NAEP scores to predict performance on TIMSS, an international test that examines what students know about math and science, analysts included thirty-eight countries and nine other educational systems in their inquiry. And the results? Not terrible. Eighth-grade students in thirty-six states outperformed the international TIMSS average in math, and those in forty-seven states did so in science. In the interest of naming names, the states that performed below that average in math included Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alabama, and the District of Columbia, while four systems—South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—bested every U.S. state in math. Massachusetts did well in math compared to other systems, but when matched against the top performers, its scores weren’t anything to write home about: For instance, 19 percent of its eighth graders scored at the “advanced” level—compared to roughly 50 percent in Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore. As for science, forty-seven states scored higher than the TIMSS average, while three states’ scores—Mississippi, Alabama, and D.C.—scored lower. Six out of ten of the top scorers in science were in the U.S., including a decent chunk...

After a week of insider chatter predicting that L.A. schools chief John Deasy would resign in February, the L.A. Unified Board of Education issued him a satisfactory evaluation—and his contract has been extended through 2016. It’s no secret that L.A.’s teacher union has no love of Deasy, due in part to his support for the parent trigger, his push for student-performance-based teacher evaluations, and his Breakfast in the Classroom program. Most recently, he has been criticized for his handling of the district’s $1 billion iPad rollout. For Dara’s analysis of what’s next for Deasy and LAUSD, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast. [Link to podcast]

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice filed a motion asking a Louisiana district court for more time to produce documents requested by the state’s attorneys—including the federal desegregation orders upon which the DOJ based its lawsuit against the Bayou State’s school-voucher program in the first place. Governor Jindal promptly responded, pointing to this as yet another example of the Obama administration’s incompetence. “Were these documents lost in the Obamacare website? Or did the Department of Justice just ignore the documents...

Dara and the Halloween Grinch

Dara attempts to understand why Brickman hates Halloween. In the meantime, they tackle Michigan’s legislative strategy for keeping the Common Core, John Deasy’s job status, and the cost of high-quality tests. The TIMSS-NAEP linking study isn’t all bad news for U.S. eighth graders, says Amber.

Amber's Research Minute

U.S. States in a Global Context: Results From the 2011 NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study by National Center for Education Statistics, (Washington, D.C.: Institute of Education Sciences, October 2013).

David M. Steiner

Given the highly favorable reviews and rave blurbs from such diverse figures as former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, one might expect Amanda Ripley's new book on international educational practices, The Smartest Kids in the World, to offer arresting revelations about how to improve America's education system.

Currently, at least as measured by the Program for Student International Assessment (PISA), America's students from each level of family income perform more poorly than students in the most educationally successful countries. Ripley thus sets out to draw lessons from Finland, South Korea, and Poland, which have achieved strong educational gains for their students. Certainly, as we digest—year after year—data on our own students that attests to their middling performance on international comparisons, tragic and persistent learning gaps among different segments of the population, and depressingly high college remediation rates, lessons from the best-performing countries in the world could not be more welcome.

What is thus surprising about Ripley's book is how little it contains that is really news; instead, it serves to remind us in powerful terms that we simply haven't acted on what we already know....

I’ve been in Asia for other reasons (looking into the education of gifted students), but while on the ground in Tokyo, I learned of a fascinating policy dispute that, in the U.S., would be even more controversial.

Compulsory education in Japan runs through ninth grade, but nearly everyone goes to, and graduates from, high school (twelfth grade). Admission to individual high schools, whether public or private, is competitive, and the competition is intense to get into the best and highest-status of them. (At the one I visited the other day, 90 percent of successful entrants had attended juku—cram school—for multiple years to prep for the school’s demanding three-part entrance exam. Yet only 160 of 1000 applicants made it across the threshold.)

Though private schools play a smallish role at the elementary and junior high levels, they’re a big deal for Japanese high school students. A remarkable 30 percent of pupils nationwide attend them, and in the sprawling Tokyo prefecture, it’s as many as 60 percent.

During the postwar years, total enrollments were soaring, and the government determined that encouraging private schools...

Dear Deborah,

Over the course of our dialogue, we've written a lot about children living in poverty and about inequality. But you've been practically daring me to engage on the question of the other end of the spectrum: the children of the rich. OK, fine, I see that resistance is futile!

In your most recent post, for instance, you argued,

Children are born into whatever they are born into.  That some start the six-mile foot "race" at a mile behind the starting line and others a few miles ahead is not fair, not a level playing field. A few in the bottom quintile (3 percent?) overcome the odds.  But it would be a lot easier for the message of hope to reach the other 97 percent if they were closer to the starting line, and the rich weren't so incredibly far ahead, looking back at them with disdain.  If my childless, working-age grandchildren aren't too proud to take a "hand-out" from their parents, why should the adult children of families who have experienced a lifetime of poverty and racism feel otherwise about taking a helping hand from a society they didn't ask to be born into poor?  Alas, many do


Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery; and movie adaptations of classic children’s books. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

What do Meryl Streep, Reading Rainbow, and the French all have in common? They all love bugs, apparently. This week’s offering of free streaming videos on Netflix and Amazon explores the world of insects—just in time, as an early freeze in much of the nation is surely killing off many of the creepy-crawly critters. Enjoy!

The 10 best streaming videos on insects

1. DisneyNature: Wings of Life

DisneyNature: Wings of Life

Full of intrigue, drama, and beauty, this mesmerizing documentary looks at bats, butterflies, hummingbirds and bees—increasingly endangered little creatures that a third of the world's food supply depends on. Meryl Streep narrates.

Length: 80 minutes

Rating: G...

Dear Deborah,

You might be right that our differences are too big to bridge; perhaps the generational divide is part of the problem. I'm a child of the 1980s and the Reagan Revolution. The idea that unions are essential to democracy, for instance, never made much sense to me; by my time, they seemed like one more interest group. Nor does the "soak the rich" class-warrior rhetoric ring my bells. Maybe because I don't live in Gotham? Maybe because I worry that any effort to confiscate wealth will backfire (in terms of lower economic growth) and will only end up hurting the poor?

I don't think it's just us, though. What's been instructive about our discussion is that it shows how deep the divides are when it comes to social policy in America. (Of course, anyone following the news out of Washington could have told us that.) I totally understand the frustration of educators who complain that policymakers put all the problems of the world on their shoulders and want to see "broader and bolder" efforts to fight poverty, too. But there's a simple reason that education has been in the...

Throughout his tenure as Secretary, Arne Duncan has often told audiences, “Hold us accountable.” It’s an honorable sentiment from a public servant.

But it’s also a model of good behavior for those of us currently in the chattering class—commentators, pundits, critics, etc., who hold forth instead of fighting in the arena.

For some time now, I’ve been giving the Department a hard time about not releasing enough data on the performance of the SIG program—I’m trying to hold them accountable for the Secretary’s talk of turning around 5,000 persistently failing schools over the course of five years.

I suppose they will eventually give us some results, and I’m certain that I’ll have something to say about them.

But in the spirit of the Secretary’s refrain, I should be held accountable, too.

I publicly predicted—on numerous occasions—that SIG was not going to produce anything remotely close to the results the Department and others were promising. I was alarmed at how much we were spending on SIG and the awful track record of previous turnaround efforts, and I was sure that districts would pick weak interventions and that...

Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American cultures; and Christopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

One of my greatest joys as a parent has been reading beloved, classic children’s books to my sons. (I highly recommend this set, for example.) I forgot how fun the stories were; my boys especially enjoy adventure books like Call of the Wild. (If you’re looking for great books for littler kids, check out my Kindergarten Canon.)

Such books are worthwhile in their own right, but they also serve an important educational purpose: They are touchstones in our culture and are referenced frequently by writers and speakers. (Think of phrases like “down the rabbit hole.”) So if our kids are going to be culturally literate (paging E.D. Hirsch), they need to be familiar with these stories.

So when you’re finished reading the books, why...