Learn About: 21st Century | Charter Schools | Homework
Home / Edifier

The EDifier

July 31, 2015

Executive functioning, an emerging and important area of study

2015-07-30_14-03-24Last semester we had the pleasure of having David Ferrier, a doctoral student studying applied developmental psychology at George Mason University, as one of our policy research interns.

We enjoyed many cerebral discussions with David, who spent his time detailing what research says about executive functioning and its connection to critical thinking, specifically, and academic achievement, generally, in an upcoming research brief.

You can get a preview of what David means by executive functioning and why it’s so important in the latest issue of American School Board Journal. Read it here and then visit our Facebook page where we’ve shared a video of a University of Michigan researcher discussing what she discovered in her review of school-based interventions that target executive functioning.

November 27, 2013

The full story: How U.S. students compare internationally

With the 2012 PISA results set to be released on Tuesday you will probably hear a lot of doom and gloom about how the U.S. doesn’t fair well on international assessments. You’ll probably be bombarded with references to the 2009 PISA results showing that U.S. students ranked 24th and 19th in math and science respectively.

Such statistics are true but you should be warned such statistics don’t tell the whole truth. While PISA results should not be ignored  they only tell part of the story of how U.S. schools compare to schools around the world. There are a myriad of other indicators that are useful in comparing U.S. schools internationally. Yet, PISA results get all the headlines because of our mediocre performance especially in math and science. But when you take a broader look at how U.S. schools perform, you’ll see our schools compare more favorably to other countries than PISA results would suggest.

U.S. students compare well in reading

PISA’s math and science results often overlook the fact that U.S. 15-year olds fair much better on PISA’s reading assessment. Compared to the 64 other countries that participated in PISA just 9 countries significantly outperformed the U.S. in reading. The U.S. compares even better at the 4th grade level where just 5 of 57 participating countries performed significantly higher than the U.S. according to the 2011 PIRLS report.

U.S. students compare more favorably in science in the earlier grades

While U.S. 15-year olds rank among the middle of the pack on PISA’s science assessment, U.S. 4th and 8th graders compare much more favorably to their international peers. On the 2011 TIMSS assessment just 6 of 57 countries significantly outperformed U.S fourth graders. At the eighth grade level just 12 of 56 countries significantly outperformed the U.S.

U.S. 4th and 8th graders are gaining on the international leaders

It seems to be an all too well kept secret that our nation’s fourth graders score within the top 10 of countries in math. According to the 2011 TIMSS, just 8 countries significantly outperformed the U.S. on the 4th grade math assessment. Our eighth graders performed nearly as well by being outperformed by just 11 of 56 countries. Keep in mind, that Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana were considered ‘counties’ for the purposes of this analysis and were among the 11 ‘countries’ that outperformed the U.S. so only 7 actual countries outperformed the U.S.

The U.S. has broken into the top 10 in math due to impressive gains over the past two decades. Since TIMSS was first administered in 1995 the scores for U.S. 4th graders improved by 23 points. Strong gains were also made during this time period by U.S. 8th graders whose scores improved by 17 points. The gains made at both grade levels are among the greatest gains made during this time period.

More work to be done

When taking a broader look at how the U.S. compares international the U.S. fairs much better than PISA results suggest. However, the results also show the U.S. has much more work to be done to perform among the world leaders. As the TIMSS results show, our schools are not only up for the challenge to thrust our schools to be among the world leaders but have already taken major strides to do so. – Jim Hull

May 8, 2013

Blinding us with science

Nanophysicists, as their name suggests, spend their days looking at really tiny stuff — atoms, electrons and other particles whose smallness can hardly be imagined by most of us non-nanos. Now IBM scientists have given us a glimpse of their microworld in what is billed as the World’s Smallest Movie. The plot may leave a lot to be desired, but that’s not why the one and a half minute film has been downloaded more than three million times in just the last week.  The film, “A boy and his atom,” is a stop action portrayal of a boy playing that was made by moving individual atoms one at a time and magnifying the image by a factor of 100 million. See for yourself.


[An interesting sidenote: Ray Harryhausen — one of the great pioneers of stop action film technique — died yesterday at the age of 92]

Making atom movies is not really an item in the IBM team’s job description. The scientists are actually working on vastly increasing data storage capacity in smaller devices. Last year, they found a way to reduce the number of atoms required to store one bit of digital information from one million to 12. That’s not a typo. But as their website says, “even nanophysicists need to have a little fun.”  That wasn’t the only motivation for producing this film. Looking ahead to a future workforce, IBM hopes that it will get more students excited in science.

That’s certainly one of the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards, the final draft of which was released in mid-April.  The Next Gen standards are intended as a companion to the common core state standards.  The initiative was led by Achieve, Inc., which was also a key player in drafting the common core and directs the PARCC consortia developing aligned assessments.  It further involved twenty-six so-called lead states and was privately funded.

The final standards have been endorsed by the business community, science teachers and others.  Some earlier critics like the Fordham Institute have been more muted in their comments and are withholding judgment until the integration with the common core is completed. Nonetheless, many agree that they improve on current science standards in most states by defining a coherent K-12 program, emphasizing science practice alongside content, and not shying away from sensitive topics like evolution and climate change.

I was privileged to have a small part in an earlier science standards-setting effort called Project 2061 that was led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Then and now, my number one criterion for reviewing standards is: do they make me wish I could be a student again? Project 2061 definitely did that. To the degree that the Next Gen standards will demand more science, particularly at the elementary level, and encourage children’s curiosity about exploring the world, they are a definite move in the right direction. However, like Fordham, I am waiting to see more before making a final call.

The next gen standards can be downloaded for free. Be aware the format requires some perseverance on the part of the reader.

And talking about being excited about  science … below is a photo of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who wowed 5,000 attendees at NSBA’s annual conference in April. Dr. Tyson showed us that in relation to the cosmos, we are as tiny as the “boy and his atom” are to us. A great advocate for science research and education, he inspired everyone to make sure their students are encouraged to explore and imagine. And not just because our nation needs scientifically literate workers and citizens. But also because our students need a little fun, too.


February 13, 2013

As Boeing’s Dreamliner fails to take off, so, too does interest in STEM fields

I’ve been following the story of Boeing and the grounding of its 787 Dreamliner fleet for the last month, though it’s been pretty hard to ignore: major airline manufacturer unveils revolutionary new aircraft that relies heavily on ion lithium batteries, only to see those same batteries heat up and force two flights to be aborted, putting Boeing’s plan for a roll out on the backburner.

The FAA and NTSB are now investigating the situation, investors and Boeing customers are watching warily and Airbus, Boeing’s main rival, is considering dropping their plans to unleash a similar electric-powered jet as a U.N. agency mulls putting the kibosh on the whole design.

Oh, the headaches for Boeing, which are actually worse than we realize. A little-known footnote in this story (though it should be a headline) is the fact that the Washington state-based company, along with the entire aerospace industry, is about to hit a massive staffing shortage.

Part of it is demographics. According to the Aerospace Industries Association, nearly 40 percent of the aerospace workforce is over 50 years old. But part of it is a skills gap; there just aren’t a lot of graduates going into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math for you neophytes) fields— only about a third of Bachelor degrees are in STEM fields in the U.S. compared to 53 percent in China and 63 percent in Japan.

And the dearth of STEM graduates is despite the fact that the federal government estimates a 20 percent increase in science and engineering careers over the next five years. Recognizing this disparity, the White House has tried to place an emphasis on STEM education, hosting an annual science fair and commissioning the 2010 report, Prepare and Inspire: K12 Education in Science, Technology and Math (STEM) for America’s Future.

At first blush, it looks like some of that focus may be paying off. According to a recent report by STEMconnector and My College Options, 1 in 4 seniors now express interest in STEM fields— that’s up 21 percent from the Class of 2004. But a closer look reveals it’s not that rosy. The spike actually returns the interest level to what it was before it precipitously dropped at the turn of the 21st century.

What’s more, initial interest doesn’t always lead to intent. Of the nearly 30 percent of freshmen who were intrigued by the idea of a STEM career, roughly 60 percent had abandoned that curiosity by the time they graduated.

This is clearly a vexing problem with major consequences for our economy, let alone the safety of our airplanes. What should we do?

December 11, 2012

U.S. 4th graders make great gains in math and reading

U.S. 4th graders catapulted into the Top 5 on the international reading rankings by making greater gains than any other country between 2006 and 2011. The U.S. also made significant gains in 4th grade math scores but only moved up one spot in the international rankings. Unfortunately, similar progress was not made in 8th grade math or science at either the 4th or 8th grades according to two new NCES reports on international assessments, Highlights from TIMSS 2011 and Highlights from PIRLS 2011.

These latest reports on international comparison shows that the U.S. is heading in the right direction in reading, math, and science but still has a way to go to catch up to high performing Asian counterparts. While students in Asian countries significantly outperform the students in the U.S. as a whole, students in such states as Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Florida rank among the world leaders. Furthermore, Asian students in the U.S. perform nearly as well as students in high performing Asian countries while our black students only perform as well as students in the lowest performing countries. This indicates that it is possible for our public schools to rank among the world leaders if all schools were given the resources needed to provide all students a high quality public education.

Summary of the result provided below.

PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study): Assessed the reading ability of 4th graders in 53 countries. PIRLS has been given every 5 years since 2001.

TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study): Assessed the math and science knowledge of 4th and 8th graders in 57 countries at the 4th grade level and 56 countries in 8th grade. TIMSS has been given every four years since 1995.                                                                 


The findings

Fourth Grade Reading

  • On PIRLS, just 4 countries outperformed the U.S. in 2011. U.S students (556) outperformed the likes of Canada, Italy, Germany, and Norway. In 2006, the U.S. was outperformed by 10 countries.
  • Between 2006 and 2011 the U.S. score increased 16 points. Such increase was the third largest during this time period.
  • Only Singapore (24 percent) had a significantly higher proportion of 4th graders reach the Advanced achievement level in reading than the U.S. (17 percent).
  • No country outperformed Florida (569) fourth graders in 2011. Florida’s score was not significantly different from world leaders Hong Kong (571), Russia (568), Finland (568), and Singapore (567) but higher than every other participating country.

Fourth Grade Mathematics

  • On TIMSS, U.S. fourth graders (541) performed above the international average (500) and performed as well as or better than all but 7 participating countries in 2011, an improvement from 2007 and 2003 when the U.S. was outperformed by 8 and 11 countries respectively.
  • U.S. scores have risen 12 points since 2007 and a total of 23 points since 1995. Just 7 countries have made greater gains since 2007 and 5 since 1995
  • North Carolina (554) was outperformed by only 5 countries while Florida (545) was outperformed by just 6 countries.

Eighth Grade Mathematics

  • At the eighth grade level, U.S. students performed (509) above the international average (500). Just 6 countries scored significantly higher than the U.S. In 2007 and 2003 the U.S. was outperformed by 5 and 9 countries respectively. 
  • U.S. scores have risen 17 points since 1995. Only 3 countries made greater gains during this time period. The U.S. made greater gains than such high performing countries as Singapore (2 points) and Japan (-11). The U.S. did not make any significant gains between 2007 and 2011.
  • U.S. states score among the world’s best and worst. Massachusetts (561) scored among the world leaders and similar to Japan (570). While Alabama (466) scored below the international average and similarly to Armenia.
    • Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana all scored above the international average while Alabama and California scored below.

Fourth Grade Science

  • On TIMSS, U.S. students performed (544) above the international average (500) and performed as well or better than all but 6 countries in 2011. In 2007 and 2003 the U.S. were outperformed by 4 and 3 countries respectively.
  • U.S. scores have remained relatively unchanged since 2007 and 1995.
  • Fifteen percent of U.S. students scored at the Advanced achievement level. Only three other countries had a greater percentage.
  • Both Florida (545) and North Carolina (538) performed similarly to the U.S. average.

Eighth Grade Science

  • At the eighth grade level, the U.S. (525) performed above the international average (500) and performed as well or better than all but 8 countries as was the case in 2007. In 2003 U.S. students were outperformed by 7 countries.
  • Although U.S. scores increased 5 points since 2007, the increase was not statistically significant. The U.S. has gained 12 points since 1995. Only 5 countries made greater gains during this time period.
  • As in math, U.S. states scored among the world’s best and worst. Massachusetts (567) was only outperformed by the global leader Singapore (590) and Minnesota (553) performed similarly to Finland (552). While Alabama (485) scored below the international average and similarly to Turkey (483).
    • Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana all scored above the international average while California scored similar to the international average and Alabama scored below.

Additional information about how the U.S. compares internationally

More than a horse race: A guide to international assessments 
Time in School: How the U.S. compares
Getting Back to the Top: An international comparison of college attainment

Older Posts »
RSS Feed