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October 25, 2017

The new gender gap

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has focused a lot of its efforts into analyzing the science data portion of the most recent round of the international comparative assessment known as PISA.  In particular, they analyzed some of the gender differences that were found related to sciences.  The conclusion that many could come to when looking at the general data from the assessment is the gender gap has closed significantly in the sciences. The OECD average science score for boys in 2015 was 495 and girls was 491, resulting in a mere 4 point gender gap.  Another indicator to assess the gender gap in science is the percent of boys versus girls expecting to work in a science related field.  The OECD average for boys is 25% and girls is 23.9%.  The United States has a different gender gap with 33% of boys and 43% of girls expecting to enter a career related to science. These data points give a false sense that the gender gap in science no longer exists.  However, with deeper analysis it is clear that the gap is still very present but now is no longer about whether girls are interested in the general concept of science but which areas within science each gender finds more interesting.

The OECD broke down science-related fields into five categories to see if girls were more dominant than boys in certain types of sciences, which is exactly what they found.  For example, 14.4% of girls compared to 5.9% of boys expect to work as a health care professional.  It is important to note that this title includes professions ranging from nurses to surgeons, since nursing tends to be a heavily female profession.

gender gap graph 1

The opposite was true for the engineering and natural science fields.  According to the OECD average, boys were 2.4 times more likely to enter these fields compared to girls.  The gap was even wider for the United States where boys are 3.3 times more likely to enter the engineering field than girls.  This clearly show that a gap persists depending on the type of science- related profession a student wishes to enter.

gender gap graph 2

The third point that I want to highlight is the difference in “enjoyment of science”.  As you can see from the graph below, boys report higher than average enjoyment on all questions about learning general science.  Girls, on the other hand, report lower than average enjoyment on all questions.  When people enjoy learning about a subject, they tend to look for more opportunities to gain exposure. This is very concerning for girls, because while they may dominate in select science related professions, they do not enjoy learning about science as much as boys.  The OECD gave recommendations to help girls see the fun in science at home and at school.  Simple activities like encouraging girls to read nonfiction, which is read by significantly more boys, is one example of introducing girls to the interesting explorative side of sciences.

gedner gap graph 3

This shows how important it is to dig deeper into data and information about gender gaps to see where disparities lie.  With deeper analysis, the gender gap is undeniable and shows that boys and girls still view science very differently.  While the gender gap persists in the United States, it is obvious that it is an international problem that many nations are trying to solve.  This is an area where policy makers could look to their international peers to devise and test different solutions since it is a universal problem that everyone is trying to solve.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons,science — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 11:11 am





June 16, 2017

The importance of social and emotional learning: Part I

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a subject that’s being increasingly discussed in the education community. SEL is teaching students character skills, which most people agree are important.  The challenge is, while these attributes are significant, they are often hard to objectively define and analyze to see how exactly they impact a student’s future.  In 2015 the OECD published the report Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills with a goal to shed light on evidence behind the impact social emotional learning can have on students.

SEL

The report has many findings, but I hope to highlight a few that I find particularly interesting.  The first finding is social and emotional skill development plays a significant role in a student’s academic development.  Specifically, out of the many skills measured “conscientiousness, sociability and emotional stability” helped with future career and social prospects.  If you think about it, this makes sense.  If you have a student who can regulate his/her emotions, show respect and get along with his/her peers, this student will have skills that will help in future classes covering all different subject areas, and for a wide variety of careers.

The impact of SEL is significant for any student, but its impact is even higher on those students who have lower academic performance.  These students are often placed in intervention programs to help them catch up to their peers.  The evidence from this report shows that social and emotional development should be a key part of these programs because it can help the interventions have an even greater impact on student performance.  This further makes attention to SEL a key consideration for improving equity in a school system.

The OECD report also notes the importance of teaching these character traits early in a student’s education career.  After reviewing the current literature, they find that focusing on social and emotional development in early childhood programs has future benefits for students, such as fewer behavior problems and greater student learning.  The report showcases a few specific programs that have been researched and implemented in schools.  One of these programs is “Tools of Mind” which is used in preschool and early primary classrooms to teach students how to regulate their emotions and social behaviors.  While no long-term study has been carried out on students who have completed the program, short-term evaluations do show that students have improved classroom behavior and emotional control.  The skills students learn in these programs build on each other, and so the earlier they can start the better.

Six months ago, the OECD released the findings for the 2015 PISA. PISA is an international assessment for 15-year-old students in reading, math and science and is given in 72 countries.  One of the key areas of analysis for this round of PISA is social and emotional development and well-being, and looking at how this may be associated with student performance.  Next week, I will highlight some of the key findings from the more recent report that shows how the U.S. compares to the 72 other countries. — Annie Hemphill

Filed under: equity,SEL,Student support — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 3:08 pm





September 7, 2016

Do we get what we pay for?

The U.S. spends more to educate its students than most of the other 35 countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), yet by some measures we don’t seem to get much benefit from our expenditures.  Is this a fair accusation?

Bruce Baker and Mark Weber, on behalf of the Albert Shanker Institute, posit that it’s not.  When you take into account America’s high per-capita GDP, high child-poverty rate, and expenses that school systems in other OECD member countries don’t have to cover in the same way (employee health care, pensions, and disability, not to mention school sports), maybe we’re not doing so poorly, after all.

If you define school efficiency as being the best production (we’ll examine this using the results from PISA, which are international assessments administered by OECD) then based on the amount of money spent, we aren’t too far below the average (For per-pupil spending of about $12,000, we should have slightly higher PISA scores, if we had average efficiency.)

Efficiency1

When you take per-capita GDP into account, we’re pretty close to where we should be on spending levels (if you draw a best-fit line through the dots, we would be close to that line).

Efficiency2

When you take our high child-poverty rate into account, our PISA scores look pretty stellar (given how far above the line we are).  Obviously, this excuse is still frustrating, as we also need to address why we have so many children in relative poverty.

Efficiency3

What we can learn from this, however, is that some states do better than others.  States with high rates of child poverty also tend to have lower per-pupil spending, giving them less capacity to help the students who most need it.  We should look at what Massachusetts and New Jersey are doing with their dollars in comparison to Hawaii or West Virginia to determine education policies (though, of course, these states all have very different contexts).

Efficiency4

The other insight in this report is that the U.S. spends relatively less on teacher salaries than other countries.  So, if we were to address inefficiencies in our system, it would need to be on administration, buildings, and transportation.  Small schools, especially rural schools, are more expensive to run than schools in more densely populated areas due to increased per-pupil administrative and transportation costs.  Schools still need a principal and a custodian, whether there are 50 students or 500 students.  Charter schools and districts also tend to be less efficient, as they are typically smaller, incurring greater costs for administration.

Efficiency5

So, are we getting enough bang for our buck?  Maybe.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons — Tags: , , , , — Chandi Wagner @ 2:30 am





November 6, 2013

The kids are all right-er

Recently, we reported on a new study from the U.S. Department of Education that showed eighth-graders in the vast majority of states performed above the international average in math and science. The NAEP-TIMSS Linking Study also found that if Massachusetts and Vermont were their own countries, they would stand with the highest-achieving nations. As CPE’s Jim Hull has been writing for some time, the popular storyline that U.S. students get crushed in international comparisons is, in a lot of ways, a distortion of the actual record. Truth is, our fourth- and eighth-graders consistently score above average, and do especially well in reading and science. Even our high school students are slightly above average in those subjects, falling below in math only.

Is “above average” good enough? Of course not. We need to keep up our efforts to do better, particularly at the high school level. But it’s also important to keep in mind that even though we’re not number one, our students are not failing. Wish we could say the same about American adults.

Another report was released in October that deserves the attention of every American because it points to issues related to literacy in the U.S. that extend beyond the reach of schools alone. The Paris-based Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducts various studies of economic and social institutions internationally.  Stateside, they are perhaps best known for PISA which tests the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds.  During 2011 and 2012, OECD administered an assessment of literacy and numeracy as part of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). The test was given to a representative sample of adults aged 16-to-65 in 21 OECD member countries.  The difference between adult performance and that of our younger students couldn’t be more striking: whereas the nation’s fourth-graders are competitive with their international peers, American adults perform below the international average, and in the case of math, far below.

In Figures 1 and 2 (below), I arranged the OECD adult findings alongside the same countries’ performance on international studies of elementary and secondary students’ knowledge and skills. Each country’s results are shown in relation to those of the U.S., meaning, a country is either below the U.S. average (gold), above the U.S. average (blue), or about the same as the U.S. (white).  The relationships are all statistically significant.

Figure 1 looks at reading/literacy performance. The first column shows performance on PIRLS, the reading assessment of fourth-graders. Second is the already mentioned PISA which is taken by 15-year-olds. Finally, the PIAAC adult results are shown in the third column on the right. So in Australia, for example, fourth-graders performed below the U.S. average and their 15-year-olds scored above the U.S. as did the adult population.

adult reading

Clearly, fourth-graders in the U.S. do very well in reading (PIRLS, 2011) compared to their international peers. They performed significantly higher than 13 of the 17 countries with PIRLS data, and only high-performing Finland outscored us.  While our relative performance drops among 15-year-olds — 5 out of 21 countries did better than we did — our overall performance was still somewhat above the international average (PISA, 2009). In contrast, our adult population scored below the international average, and was outperformed by 11 participating countries (PIAAC, 2012).

The U.S. adult performance in math is even more troubling. Figure 2 shows math results for grade 4 and grade 8 (TIMSS, 2011), 15-year-olds (PISA, 2009) and adults (PIAAC, 2012).

adult math

U.S. fourth-graders once again hold their own. They performed significantly better than their peers in 12 out of the 19 countries with TIMSS data; only two countries, Japan and Korea, scored higher.  U.S. adults, however, are significantly outperformed by their peers in 16 out of the 21 countries and surpass only Spain and Italy.

There are a lot of caveats and considerations in interpreting these results and the study raises more questions than provides answers, beginning with:

  • This is snapshot data, all of which was collected between 2009 and 2012. We need to look at longer trends to understand whether the high performance of fourth-graders today will translate into better adult outcomes later on, or if something else is happening with the adult population. One puzzle:  the nation has produced steadily improving math scores for several decades as measured by TIMSS, NAEP and SAT. Yet the difference between our older (age 55-65) and younger adults (16-24) is modest and represents the lowest growth between generations in the study. We should expect to see better adult outcomes. We need to know why we’re not.
  • The international assessments given to fourth- and eighth-graders (PIRLS and TIMSS) resemble tests typically taken by students and aligned with school curricula. Both PISA and PIAAC attempt to assess how well individuals apply their knowledge and skills in practical situations.  Could these differences at least partially explain the performance gap between our younger students and adults?
  • The overall poor performance of American adults has a perverse counter-image in those indicators the U.S. does lead in. The impact of social-economic class on adult literacy levels is greater here than in any other nation. We also lead in the relationship between literacy and wages, healthy living and civic participation, with those on the low end of the literacy scale having the least access.

The OECD findings don’t point to any specific cause. Nonetheless, there is clearly a role for schools. First, they need to build on the gains they are producing in elementary and middle school and double down on efforts to instruct high school students to higher levels. It would also serve schools well to examine instructional methods to make sure students learn concepts deeply and can apply them in unfamiliar situations — something, by the way, the new Common Core standards strive to do.

But we are wrong to believe that schools can solve the problem by themselves and there are a lot of players who need to share responsibility. We can begin by examining social and economic policies that affect adult lives, notably, the availability of continuing education, the impact of widening inequality, the ways we support new immigrants (or not), and the possible role our culture and media have on what we know and can do.

As the data show, schools are stepping up to the plate and as a result, our fourth- and eighth-graders are competitive in the international ballpark.  For now, our kids have every right to tell us grown-ups to hit the books.







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