Saturday, December 14, 2013

From PISA, some gaps more equal than others

A few leftover observations from the 2012 PISA results that I haven't seen widely remarked upon elsewhere follow.

- Excluding DC's affluent white minority, according to NAEP testing results, Massachusetts boasts the most intelligent kids in the United States. That holds among states' entire public student body and also for states' non-Hispanic white student populations. It's the best we have to offer.

As a whole, in mathematics the Bay State comes in tied with Germany and beats Austria, Australia, Ireland, Slovenia, Denmark, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, France, the UK, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Russia, Lithuania, Sweden, Hungary, Croatia, Greece, and Serbia among the  participating members of the Occidental club. It comes in behind Belgium, Poland, Canada, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Somewhere in the top third or so of the Euro-descended pack is hardly something to to be ashamed of.

Even Massachusetts, of course, can't match any of the East Asian countries save for descriptively ambiguous Vietnam (though Massachusetts' Asian population outscores all of East Asia except for Shanghai and Singapore--it beats Hong Kong, Taipei, South Korea, Macau, and Japan).

- Being a parochial provincial, I'm unaware of whether or not the female aversion to the STEM fields has yet reached crisis mode outside the US as it has within. Here in the states it's the second biggest problem in education (the intractable Gap forever remaining the ultimate behemoth--why, as Arne Duncan is surely aware, if only we could close the Gap, we'd shoot back into the thick of the European pack. Having closed the national Gap, we'd then be able to move on to the international Gap, snapping it shut and at last putting Liberia on equal footing with Latvia!).

If the issue doesn't have as much visibility outside the US as does within, it's not for a lack of data pointing to the problem. Teenage boys outscored their fellow female students in 51 of the 68 places where testing was administered. In four of the 68, there was no difference in male and female performance. These egalitarian paradises include Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Lithuania, and Montenegro.

Even more equal than that, though, are the countries where the girls outperformed the boys. First, the suggestive female advantages, although the sex differences do not reach the level of statistical significance at a 95% confidence rate--Albania, Russia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Finland, Singapore, Latvia, and the United Arab Emirates. Five of the 68 places are genuinely able to celebrate gender equality by pointing to statistically significant advantages among their female students over their male counterparts. These nations are Iceland, Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar, and Jordan. Looks like the only country more progressive than Qatar when it comes to women's rights is Jordan! Who knew?

Staffan mentioned sour grapes in the context of Denmark's questioning of the validity of the latest PISA results, but the Danes have a lot more to be proud of than the Chinese do. Sure, the latter may be earning higher marks on the scholastic tests, but the when it comes to the results that really matter--those measuring equality--Denmark kicks Shanghai's ass!

- Parenthetically, there is a gender gap that is more overwhelming and consistent than the one in mathematics, but it's not a problem to get worked up about. This gap actually indicates the utmost triumph of Equality--in every single pedagogical jurisdiction, all 68 out of 68 of them--girls outperformed boys in reading, and at statistically significant levels across the board to boot. Once again the two countries with the largest female advantages are Qatar and Jordan!

- Finally, how about a little curmudgeon's revenge? There really is no such thing as a free lunch:


sykes.1 said...

The STEM gap, like the PISA and IQ gaps, is largely genetic in origin and not changeable.

McGillicuddy said...

It actually says that Connecticut’s whites outscored Massachusetts’ on all three tests.

Kodhambo said...

The percentage of student eligible for free lunch is a proxy for percentage URM in a school district;often, realtors report this number to support the quality of school district.

Anonymous said...

"These egalitarian paradises include Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Lithuania, and Montenegro.

These nations are Iceland, Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar, and Jordan. Looks like the only country more progressive than Qatar when it comes to women's rights is Jordan! Who knew?"

Hehe. It could be a matter of inbreeding. These are mainly Muslim countries and small islands. It seems women recover better from brain injury and they are less impaired by things like autism. Perhaps their brains can deal with the debilitating consequenses of inbreeding better too.

The Danes have some compensations. Just judging by my experience as a neighbor, it seems they fit the entrepreneurial personality profile pretty well. And their GDP/PPP per capita is more than 4 times that of China. Sure, China is catching up but Japan used to be the future for the same reasons and look how that turned out. Not that they are starving but the GDP is still below Denmark.

Audacious Epigone said...


Thanks for pointing out that discrepancy with NAEP scores. It's not huge, of course, but it is definitely notable.


They report lower eligibility numbers in support of putatively high-quality school districts, right?


It would be fascinating if there existed a tendency towards greater cognitive parity among more inbred populations than more outbred ones. Interesting thought. Something to keep an eye out for.

Anonymous said...

The girls who get to go to school in Qtar are probably high SES and highly motivated and supported by their parents.