AD (728x90)

My Blog List

Total Pageviews

Featured Video

Featured Video


All copyright reserved by Khondoker Hafizur Rahman. Powered by Blogger.

Popular Posts

Video Of Day

  • 2793 Pine St

    2793 Pine St

    Thank you for visiting the Education section of the World web site. We hope you find the resources here useful for your needs in statistics education, EA is always working on developing new resources and expanding those already developed, center for Education Statistics collects, analyzes and makes available data related to education in the Bangladesh and other nations, If you have a suggestion, please feel free to contact us as we are always happy to hear of exciting new ideas...

  • 1100 Broderick St

    1100 Broderick St

    Thank you for visiting the Education section of the World web site. We hope you find the resources here useful for your needs in statistics education, EA is always working on developing new resources and expanding those already developed, center for Education Statistics collects, analyzes and makes available data related to education in the Bangladesh and other nations, If you have a suggestion, please feel free to contact us as we are always happy to hear of exciting new ideas ...

  • 868 Turk St

    868 Turk St

    Thank you for visiting the Education section of the World web site. We hope you find the resources here useful for your needs in statistics education, EA is always working on developing new resources and expanding those already developed, center for Education Statistics collects, analyzes and makes available data related to education in the Bangladesh and other nations, If you have a suggestion, please feel free to contact us as we are always happy to hear of exciting new ideas...

  • 420 Fell St

    420 Fell St

    Thank you for visiting the Education section of the World web site. We hope you find the resources here useful for your needs in statistics education, EA is always working on developing new resources and expanding those already developed, center for Education Statistics collects, analyzes and makes available data related to education in the Bangladesh and other nations, If you have a suggestion, please feel free to contact us as we are always happy to hear of exciting new ideas...

Monday, December 29, 2014

The London Schools Effect - what have we learned this week?

Perhaps the biggest question in education policy over the past few years
is why the outcomes for London schools have been improving so much
faster than in the rest of the country. I wrote about it here
last year. Until now there's been little in the way of research into
the question but last week two reports came out - one by the IFS and one
from CFBT - that seek to provide some answers.

They both agree that the change in GCSE results has been spectacular.
There's plenty of data in both reports on this but I found this graph
from the IFS particularly powerful because it relates to a metric that
isn't something schools are held accountable to - and so feels like
authentic proof that something extraordinary has happened in London.

But what, exactly, has happened? Here the two reports seem to disagree. According to the IFS - whose analysis is purely quantitative the main reasons are:

  • Changes in pupil and school characteristics - in particular London
    and other inner-city areas have seen an increase in pupils from a range
    of ethnic backgrounds (partly) as a result of immigration. The IFS
    analysis suggests this accounts for about half the improvement in London
    between 2002-2012.
  • Changes in "prior attainment" - the authors argue that once higher
    levels of attainment in key stage 2 (end of primary) tests are taken
    into account then the "London effect" in secondaries looks less
    impressive. Indeed once prior attainment and changes in pupil/school
    characteristics have been controlled for the gap between London and the
    rest of the country falls from 21 percentage points in the  5 A*-C GCSE
    with English and Maths measure to just 5 percentage points. Moreover
    this gap is fairly stable between 2002-2012 - though it does increase a
    by about 2 percentage points over the period.
  • There was a big increase in key stage 2 schools for disadvantaged
    pupils between 1999-2003 and that led to big increases in GCSE scores
    for these pupils between 2004-08 - but the GCSE improvement was actually
    the result of prior attainment. The authors hypothesise this may be due
    to the introduction of "national strategies" in primary literacy and
    numeracy in the late 90s - these were piloted in inner London
    authorities (as well as some other urban areas e.g. Liverpool).
  • London secondaries do have a better record at getting disadvantaged
    pupils to stay in education post-16. After controlling for pupil/school
    characteristics they are around 10 percentage points more likely to stay
    in education.

The CFBT report
does include quantitative analysis but is much more focus on
qualitative research - specifically interviews with headteachers,
academics, civil servants and other experts. This report argues the key
reasons for London's improvement are:

  • Four key "improvement interventions" between 2002 and 2014 - the
    "London Challenge" (a Labour initiative that used data to
    focus attention on weaker schools and used better schools to support
    their improvement); Teach First; the introduction of sponsored
    academies; and improvements driven by local authorities.
  • They conclude that: "each of
    these interventions played a significant role in driving improvement.
    Evaluations of each of these interventions have overall been positive,
    although the absence of RCT evidence makes it impossible to identify the
    precise gains from each set of activities. The exact causal mix also
    varied from borough to borough because there were variations in the
    level of involvement in London Challenge, variations in the
    effectiveness of local authority activity, variations in the level of
    ‘academisation’ and variations in the level of input from Teach First."
  • The authors argue that there were cross-cutting themes covering
    these interventions and the wider improvement story. In particular - the
    better use of data; practitioner-led professional development and,
    particularly, leadership - both politically and at school level.

At first glance it's hard to reconcile the positions taken in the two
reports. The IFS focus on primary, and to a lesser extent pupil
characteristics, while CFBT focus on secondary policy changes. I think,
though, they are two different bits of an extremely complicated jigsaw
that hasn't been finished yet - and because of the lack of evidence/data
- never will be. Like the apocryphal blind men with the elephant
they're looking at different parts of the whole.

1) Both reports probably underestimate the importance of changes in
pupil characteristics. CFBT completely dismiss this as a driver based on
an inadequate analysis of ethnicity data. The IFS analysis is more
comprehensive and so does pick up a significant effect but may still
miss the true extent because of the limitations of available data on
ethnicity. I think this may explain the extent of the "primary effect"
in the IFS report. Essentially they're saying the big improvements in
GCSE results are partially illusory because they were already built
into those pupils' primary attainment. However, they are unable (because
of a lack of data) to analyse whether those primary results were also partly illusory because those pupils started primary at a higher level.

There is a clue that this may be a factor in their analysis of Key Stage
1 data for more recent years. Controlling for prior attainment at KS1
reduces the "London effect" at Key Stage 2 by about half. But the
authors are unable to do this analysis for the crucial 1999-2003 period
when results really improved. They are also unable to look from the
beginning of primary - because we don't have baseline assessments when
pupils start school.

2) The IFS report probably underestimates the secondary effect. As Chris Cook has shown the London secondary effect at least doubles if you exclude equivalents.

3) The CFBT report definitely underestimates the primary effect because
it doesn't look for it. Thought there are some quotes from people who
worked in local authorities during the crucial period who highlight
their focus on literacy and numeracy during the late 90s.

So pupil characteristics; primary schools and secondary schools all seem
to have played a role in boosting attainment in London. The CFBT report
is convincing on some of the factors at play in secondaries; the IFS
report is convincing that primaries also played some kind of a role. The
big questions for me after digesting both reports:

  • Are there "London specific" pupil characteristics that wouldn't be
    apparent from the available data. E.g. are immigrants who go to London
    different to those who don't? Are some of the ethnicity effects stronger
    than indentified because key groups (e.g. Polish) are hidden in larger
  • Are there policy reasons why London primaries improved faster than
    those elsewhere in the crucial 1999-2003 period? I struggle to buy the
    idea that the national strategies were the key driver here as they were
    rolled out nationally (albeit that the pilots were focused on inner
    London). But the quotes in the CFBT report suggest their might be
    something here around a general focus on literacy/numeracy. This is a
    key area for further research.
  • To what extent were the policy interventions (London Challenge,
    academies etc...) the main reasons for secondary improvement? Or was it
    more to do with the number of good school leaders during that period?
    One of the most interesting tables in the CFBT report - pasted below -
    shows that inner London is the only part of the country where
    headteacher recruitment has got easier in the last ten year. And the
    importance of leadership shines through in the interviews conducted for
    the CFBT report. Is it possible to more closely identify the
    relationship between individual leaders and school improvement? What can
    we learn from these leaders?

And of course the really big question - is any of this replicable in
other areas? We're starting to see a raft of local improvement
initiatives across the country - Wales Challenge; Somerset Challenge;
North East Challenge and so on. It's really important that in these
areas we do a better job of evaluating all the interventions put in
place from the start so that if we see big improvements we have a better
understand of the causes.

75 education people you should follow

One of the most frequent conversations I have is people asking me who
they should follow on twitter. This is my attempt to answer. It is, of
course, a highly subjective list based on people I enjoy following. But
the people here represent a wide range of views / opinions. Follow this
lot and you'll get a feel for the debate; as well as a good stream of
useful links and some great blogs.

The list is ordered alphabetically in categories. The * indicates they also have a blog that's worth reading.

Academics and Writers

Annie Murphy Paul: Author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter

Becky Allen*: Reader in Economics of Education at Institute of Education. Quant wizard.

Becky Francis: Professor of Education and Social Justice at King's College.

Chris Husbands*: Director of the Institute of Education

Dan Willingham: Cognitive Psychologist and Author of Why Don't Students Like School?

Daisy Christodolou*: Research and Development manager at ARK, Author, super-smart.

David Weston*: Former teacher, Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust

Dylan William: Professor, expert in assessment and curriculum

Gifted Phoenix: (Not his real name) Education policy analyst specialising gifted and talented

Graham Birrell: Senior Lecturer in Education at Christchurch Canterbury

Laura McInerney*: Former teacher, blogger, columnist, complete genius if a bit too Fabian.

Loic Menzies*: Researcher, Author, Blogger, Teacher Trainer.

Martin Robinson: Author and teacher trainer

Rob Coe: Professor of Education at Durham



Duncan Spalding: Norfolk Headteacher

John Tomsett*: Headteacher in York

Geoff Barton: Head in Suffolk. Frequent tweeter, occasional blogger, not a big fan of Ofqual.

Liam Collins: Head in East Sussex

Rachel de Souza: CEO of the Inspiration Trust; a forward thinking academy chain in East Anglia

Ros McMullen: Principal of David Young Community Academy in Leeds.

Tom Sherrington*: One of the best blogging heads


Ann Mroz: Editor of the Times Education Supplement

Greg Hurst: Education Editor at The Times

Helen Warrell: Covers education for the Financial Times

Jonn Elledge: Editor of Education Investor Magazine. More left wing than that makes him sound.

Michael Shaw: Director of TESPro

Nick Linford: Editor of FE Week

Reeta Chakrabati: BBC Education Correspondent

Richard Adams: Education Editor at the Guardian

Sanchia Berg: BBC education specialist; currently on Newsnight

Sean Coughlan: BBC online education correspondent

Sian Griffiths: Education Editor at the Sunday Times

Toby Young: Free School Founder, columnist, provocateur.

Warwick Mansell*: Guardian Education Diarist, freelancer, blogger.

William Stewart: Reporter at the Times Education Supplement

Policy and Politics 

Andrew Adonis: Former education Minister and Author

Brett Wigdortz: CEO of Teach First and my boss.

Conor Ryan: Former adviser to David Blunkett and Tony Blair. Now at Sutton Trust.

Dominic Cummings: Special Adviser to Michael Gove (until January)

Fiona Millar: Columnist and campaigner for comprehensives; former adviser to Cherie Blair.

Gabriel Sahlgren: Research Director at the Centre for Market Reform of Education.

Gerard Kelly: Former Editor of the Times Education Supplement.

Graham Stuart: Chair of the Education Select Committee

Jonathan Clifton: Senior Research Fellow at IPPR, working on education and youth policy.

Jonathan Simons: Head of Education at Policy Exchange. Ex-cabinet office.

Liz Truss: Schools Minister

Matt Hancock: Post-16 Minister

Michael Barber: Chief Education Advisor at Pearson. Former Head of the PM’s Delivery Unit.

Pasi Sahlberg: Finnish education expert - author of Finnish Lessons

Robert Hill*: Former adviser to Charles Clarke and Tony Blair. Currently advising Welsh Govt.

Stephen Tall*: Development Director at the Education Endowment Foundation

Tim Leunig: Policy Adviser to David Laws

Tom Richmond: Policy Adviser to Matt Hancock

Tristram Hunt: Shadow Secretary of State for Education


Alex Quigley*: Subject Leader of English & Assistant Head. One of my favourite bloggers.

Alex Weatherall: Science / Computer Science teacher

Andrew Old*: Anonymous teacher; caustic, brilliant, blogger and Man of Mystery

David Didau*: Teacher, Author and one of the most popular teacher bloggers.

Debra Kidd*: AST for Pedagogy, formerly Senior Lecturer in Education, MMU.

Harry Fletcher-Wood*: History teacher and CPD leader at Greenwich Free School.

Harry Webb*: Ex-pat Brit teaching in Australia. Great, analytic, blogger.

Katie Ashford*: Secondary English teacher

Keven Bartle*: Senior Leader and entertaining blogger

Kristopher Boulton*: Maths teacher at ARK King Solomon Academy

James Theobold: English teacher. Funny.

Jo (readingthebooks)*: Head of English in a London school.

Joe Kirby*: English teacher + prolific blogger

John Blake*: History teacher and Editor of Labour Teachers

Lee Donaghy*: Senior Leader at Parkview school, Birmingham.

Michael Merrick*: Teacher of many subjects and professional contrarian.

Michael Tidd*: Sussex middle school teacher (KS2) and blogger

Micon Metcalfe: Business Manager at Dunraven School. Edu-finance queen.

Red or Green Pen?*: Anonymous Maths teacher and great blogger

Stuart Lock*: Deputy Headteacher

Tessa Matthews*: Pseudonym for a English teacher + super blogger.

Thomas Starkey*: FE English teacher

Tom Bennett*: Teacher, Blogger, Author, ResearchED Founder, Scot.

And of course...

SchoolDuggery: Queen of Education on twitter; unclassifiable. Must follow.

Rapid Progress For *Boys' Writing (*Girls Too)

are many challenges facing educators and students today. One of these
is the increase in the use and availability of digital technology. In
some quarters, there have been voices of concern that the widespread
prevalence of digital technology is affecting students’ social and
communication development and limiting interest and motivation for

Mr Andrews Online we take the opposite view. We have developed this
approach over 12 months with classroom trials in a large number and wide
range of schools, teacher consultation and feedback have led to this
unique and highly effective approach. We harness the incredible power of
technology these lesson plans teach students to write for a range of
purposes and audiences, and additionally they make the students want to
write and enjoy writing.

Rapid Progress For *Boys' Writing (*Girls' Too) is available for just £50

This book contains:

  • A clear and structured approach to teaching all genres of writing using popular games as a stimulus.
  • Easy to follow lesson plans which raise standards, secure rapid
    progress and make a sustained impact on all young writers, even those
    who are most reluctant.
  • Note taking sheets, vocabulary ideas, sentence starters, writing prompts and over 80 ideas for writing activities.
  • Typed and hand written examples from writing projects we have delivered in classroom in schools across the UK
  • A transferable cross-curricular approach demonstrating a clear,
    accessible progression covering: Talk for writing/ oral rehearsal,
    planning, drafting, feedback/collaboration and digital publishing.

Inspiring outstanding writing using iPad/Android tablet games, this
revolutionary approach to teaching writing uses spectacular digital
games and tablet technology to engage all young learners with a love of
writing. Following the completion of an activity or challenge in a
chosen game, students begin a clearly structured sequence of activities
to develop language, expression and build sequenced ideas in preparation
for writing. Writing outcomes can take the form of handwritten work or
be presented as a digital book. All key genres of writing are covered.

Chris Williams presenting at the 'How to be Outstanding in the New Curriculum" conference for the National Literacy Trust
this way, students develop a passion for writing and sharing their
ideas, standards improve both in print and with the spoken word, and a
lifelong engagement with the importance of written and oral
communication is started.

Classroom Projects: The writing approach has been developed in a large number and range of schools across the UK
unrivalled product provides a clear background and explanation of the
approach for educators, it also gives structured and sequenced
directions allowing class teachers and to share the approach with their
students. The step-by-step explanation ensures maximum impact of this
dynamic, innovative and highly effective approach to teaching students
to write for a range of purposes and audiences.

Resources from one of the Writing Modules
small number of expertly chosen apps and a tablet computer (iPad or
Android) are required to support this groundbreaking process, which was
first presented at the UK National Literacy Trust conference “How to be
Outstanding” in October 2013.

have a number of reluctant writers and have been looking for ways to
engage them for some time. This product was just what I needed. The
immersion in the games gave the pupils real knowledge for the writing
tasks. They were hooked into writing straight away. It was clear that
there was an increase in motivation, application and enjoyment resulting
in higher standards of writing.”

Petra Rafferty, Senior Teacher, Highlands Primary School, Hull, UK

am so thankful to have come across the work of David and Chris. Their
work inspired me and provided me with opportunity to engage and motivate
the struggling writers in my class. When I reached out to David and
Chris I was pleasantly surprised at the support and guidance they
provided me. Their leadership around the integration of technology,
student engagement and classroom innovation has benefited my practice
and the achievement of my students. I consider their counsel to be
invaluable and I am certain you would as well.”

Rolland Chidiac, Elementary School Teacher, Ontario, Canada

continue to be amazed at the creative and innovative uses of classroom
technology developed by David and Chris. They recognise the power and
impact of technology in the classroom and provided exceptional support,
guidance and feedback. I am always excited to meet educators like David
and Chris and completely support the approach they use to engage
learners and raises standards.”

Dr Reshan Richards, Director of Ed Tech and App Designer (Explain Everything), New Jersey, USA

“I think your ideas have enormous potential and will be extremely useful for teachers and schools.”

Peter Rudd, Reader in Education, York University. Specialism:
Overcoming the barriers to educational disadvantage (especially using

“David and Chris are at the forefront of the
growing move towards using mobile technology as a way of engaging pupils
and accelerating learning. The philosophy is based on a clear approach
on how technology can be used to influence learners positively. I would
recommend their input for a range of purposes. They are real teachers
doing the job, not just talking about theory. I have been overwhelmed by
the progress this product has enabled. Standards of writing have
accelerated beyond my expectations.”

Chris Beazeley, Primary Headteacher, Essex, UK

love your ideas! They are endlessly inspiring for me and the children I
work with. I work in schools consulting regarding integrating
technology into the curriculum.This has been such a good way to help our
boys WANT to write!”

Denise Hall, Educational Consultant, Victoria, Australia

attended one of David and Chris’ course and immediately recognised the
potential of their work in our school. To say that they have been a like
a shining beacon is an understatement. The whole staff have been
inspired by their work. Pupils with low self-esteem, low concentration
and low academic levels have positively glowed these last few weeks.
Truly magical. I thought it was Hogwarts at times!”

Paul Browning, Primary Headteacher, Hull, UK

have been using your ideas with my class. One of the stand out moments
has been the work of one of the poorest children in my class. He is
working just within level 2 on a day to day basis. The buzz he has found
from writing has been such a rewarding thing to observe, where I am
normally faced with frustration and lack of engagement now he is keen as
mustard to write and it just seems to flow out of him. I know we have
some issues with grammar and few technical elements of writing but I’m a
firm believer that this bit can be taught whereas the want to write

The ever changing education system.

Here I am again about two months too late. Once more life seems to get
in the way of any kind of sensible writing (if you can call this
sensible) and quiet.

In approximately 8 weeks our eldest son, Ben, will sit his A levels (or
A2s as they are sometimes referred to here). It is quite mind blowing
that his first, and last, two years in school are nearing an end. How he
has fared I will leave for another post, perhaps I'll ask him to write
one, if I can catch him at home for long enough once he's 'free' again!

Much to my surprise (and to be honest, relief) the A levels are yet
again, being reformed. From September 2015 the A level course will be
linear; assessment only after two years, rather like it was when I did
my A levels all those years ago.  The AS level will be retained but will
be a qualification in itself and so one can no longer go and and
complete a second year and turn it into an A level as Ben has done.

Additionally there is no longer any January exams available. Ben has
decided to re-sit one Unit of his first year and instead of being able
to do this in January just past, he has had to add it to his final exams
which has caused some extra pressure and worry. (More on my part it
must be said but then is it not a Mother's job to worry?)

Are these sensible and beneficial changes? I feel more at ease with two
years for A levels with no break for exams after what is really about 6
months. When Ben went into sixth form to study A levels, he found
himself after five tender months being told to begin preparing and
revising for the summer exams. It is much to take on and most students
(especially having gone from GCSEs which they do in schools and are a
poorer standard than the IGCSEs) have a tremendous shock at the work
load and the standard required of them to pass these exams well.

Here the home educated student is at an advantage- they have already
learnt to work independently and do not need constant guidance in their
research and learning. The depth of learning and requirements is a huge
 difference for A levels- the schooled child suddenly finds they are no
longer spoon fed but feeding themselves.

So reforming the A levels to a two year course seems a good option to
me. It allows the student to master their subject more deeply and become
proficient at answering the exam questions and learning content more
assiduously without the constant reminder of threatening exams after
only a few months.

A levels remain well respected for their rigour and Universities require
them and prefer them to other qualifications. If your student is
seriously considering University, especially a Russell Group one, then it might be worth considering the
more traditional A levels rather than the 'soft' options.

It feels like yesterday when Ben made his debut into school for the
first time ever. Now he is nearing the end and will, after a year doing
some voluntary work and seeing the world, enter a new phase of his life;
most probably University and I'm sure there will be a tale to tell
about that too...

May the most Holy Family keep all our dear children ever in their
prayers, and guide and govern them in their studies with discernment and
good judgement.

Exam contemplations

As I write we are amid the exam season once again. This is the fourth
year we have experienced exams as a home educating family, and I think
with trepidation of the next, ooh ten years or so, we have to go!

Exams; one chance, or perhaps two, if one has two papers, to gain decent
grades and be successful. No matter if the student feels under the
weather, has a serious worry, suffers 'exam freeze' is all down to
how they perform in those exams, and woe besides anything or anyone who
distracts them.

Is this fair and just? Probably not. Yet for years this is how the UK
educational system has functioned  and A levels seem to be becoming
harder and more demanding and the IGCSEs the home educated children must
do, in place of the GCSEs, are far more rigorous.

 Marie, my 16yr old daughter - now there's is a story and reminds me
always to be prepared for surprises. All her educational life she has
been astute and clever gaining very high marks in every subject she's
applied herself to. She is our second child and even though I knew how
bright Ben was, Marie always seemed slightly more academic and seemed to
absorb and understand subjects like Latin and Maths with more ease than
Ben. It was only natural, I naively presumed, that she'd breeze through
her IGCSEs. How wrong I was! It isn't that Marie has failed in any way,
yet she has not achieved what she is capable of.

As home educators, we usually have to teach at quite a high level, or at
least guide (in my home!) and I knew from Marie's work she was very
intelligent. She would return from the first two exams reasonably happy
and certainly not flustered only to find a few months later she had not
gained the high grades she had hoped for. On exam number three (Biology
ICGSE) we sat down and discussed it. 'No, no, I absolutely do not
panic!' she exclaimed, yet something was wrong. On asking for her Latin
paper back (she gained a C at 14years old which in retrospect is not
that bad!) her tutor said he would not have recognised that it was her
as it was so far from her usual high standard.

We realised she was experiencing 'exam freeze', where she would just
clam up and think she had forgotten everything through nerves and then
write either muddled answers or even be unable to answer at all.

So, what to do? Over that year, Marie's confidence in her studies
wavered, so much so that at times she would ask me never to put her in
for an exam again. She re-sat a couple of exams and did better, but life
is not for re-sits and it hurt me to see her self esteem diminish
because of the exam world.

We discussed it in length and as Marie is blessed to know what she would
like to do for a career - midwifery -  she went and found the simplest
way she could enter this profession. (Another skill home educated
children seem to acquire- the gift of being independent enough to find
things out for themselves).

She completed three more IGCSEs this year (the minimum I suggested!)-
English Language, English Literature and Art. This will give her (if,
please God, she passes!) six IGCSEs (and  German too), and she has
discovered she can take an Access course to Midwifery which will allow
her to bypass A levels and any further exams until degree level.

The Access course is in place of three A levels and one needs no
qualifications to apply. I had previously thought one had to be over 18
years old to begin yet they are happy to accept Marie at just 17. The
bonus of it as well is it is from home, so she will not be entering a
school as Ben has done, and which she is opposed to.

As for Ben he is nearing the end of his two years in sixth form, in fact
school life is now complete and he just goes in to write his exams.

It has had it's pros and cons and I still believe it was best for Ben,
but entering a secular school as a traditional Catholic previously home
schooled brings it's difficulties and it was only because I had great
faith in his strengths and purity of heart was I less reluctant for him
to go.

That said, he has now seen a little of the world and had a taste for
what will come next. He would return home at night, discuss his day and
the conversations he had been involved in or overheard (if he needed to,
but as a boy, he is never too eager to evaluate things!) and made some
good friends whom accepted and liked him for who he is. It has not been
detrimental to him in any way, and in some areas it has been very
beneficial, especially the rugby and football playing and the two trips

Secondary education, but especially post-14 yrs, is a real battle for
Catholic parents and their children, Where to send them, which subjects
to study, which school if any, which course is a continuing
minefield and we can only, as I have tried to do here, help each other
along with our own experiences.

Please keep all children sitting exams and discerning their educational
future in your prayers, and May the most Holy Family protect and guide

(For the Distance Learning courses where the Access course is see
this link-

The amazing truth about PISA scores: USA beats Western Europe, ties with Asia.

What I have learned recently and want to share with you is that once we correct (even crudely) for demography in the 2009 PISA scores, American students outperform Western Europe by significant margins and tie with Asian students. Jump to the graphs if you don't want to read my boring set-up and methodology.

The main theme in my blog is that we shouldn’t confuse policy with culture, and with demographic factors.

For instance, education scholars have known for decades that the home environment of the kids and the education levels of the parents are very important for student outcomes. We also know that immigrant kids have a more difficult time at school, in part because they don’t know the language.

Take me as an example. The school me and my brother attended was in a basement in Tehran, had no modern resources, and largely focused on religious indoctrination. But we had a good home background. Our father attended a college in the west a few years (our mother didn’t, despite stratospheric scores test scores, because at the time you didn’t send a good Kurdish girl to another city to study). So we did well in school. Conversely, the first few years in Sweden I had bad grades, in part because I didn’t master the language.

The point I am trying to make is that the school in Sweden was objectively superior to the school in Iran. But I scored lower in Sweden, because of factors outside the control of the education system. If you want to compare the effect of the school, you have to isolate those external factors and make an apples-to-apples comparison.

However, this is not at all how the media is presenting the recent PISA scores. For example there is a lot of attention of the score of the kids in Shanghai, the according to the NYT is supposed to “stun” us or something.

It's dumb to compare one of the most elite cities in a country with entire nations, and to draw policy-inference from such a comparison. Shanghai has 3 times the average income of China! It is also naive to trust the Chinese government when they tell us the data is representative of the entire nation. Either you compare Shanghai to New York City, or you compare the entire country of China, including the rural part, with other large nations. Most of the news and policy conclusions we read about PISA-scores in the New York Times is thus pure nonsense.

1. Correcting for the demography:

In almost all European countries, immigrants from third world countries score lower than native born kids.

Why? No one know exactly why. Language, culture, home environment, income of parents, the education level of the parents and social problems in the neighborhood and peer groups norms are among likely explanations. But it is generally not true that the schools themselves are worse for immigrants than natives. In welfare states, immigrants often (thought not always) go to the same or similar schools and have as much or likely more resources per student.

So the fact that immigrant students in mixed schools do worse than Swedish kids used to a few decades ago in homogeneous schools does not it out of itself prove that Swedish public schools have become worse.

Of course, the biggest myth that the media reporting of PISA scores propagates is that the American public school system is horrible.

The liberal left in U.S and in Europe loves this myth, because they get to demand more government spending, and at the same time get to gloat about how much smarter Europeans are than Americans. The right also kind of likes the myth, because they get to blame social problems on the government, and scare the public about Chinese competitiveness.

We all know that Asian students beat Americans students, which "proves" that they must have a better education system. This inference is considered common sense among public intellectuals. Well, expect for the fact that Asian kids in the American school system actually score slightly better than Asian kids in North-East-Asia!

So maybe it’s not that there is something magical about Asian schools, and has more to do with the extraordinary focus on education in Asian culture, with their self-discipline and with their favorable home environment.

There are 3 parts to the PISA test, Reading, Math, and Science. I will just make it simple and use the average score of the 3 tests. This is not strictly correct, but in practice it doesn’t influence the results, while making it much easier for the reader. (the reason it doesn't influence the results is that countries that are good at one part tend to be good at other parts of the test.)

The simplest thing to do in order to get an apples-to-apples comparison is to at least correct for demography and cultural background. For instance, Finland scores the best of any European country. However first and second generation immigrant students in Finland do not outperform native Swedish, and score 50 points below native Finns (more on this later).

On PISA, 50 points is a lot. To give you a comparison, 50 points is larger than the difference between Sweden and Turkey. A crude rule of thumb here is that 50 points is 0.5 standard deviations.

The problem is that different countries have different share of immigrants. Sweden in 2009 PISA data had 17%, and Finland 4%. It’s just not fair to the Swedish public school system to demand that they must produce the same outcome, when Sweden has many more disadvantaged students. Similarly schools with African-American students who are plagued by racism, discrimination, crime, broken homes, poverty and other social problems are not necessarily worse just because their students don’t achieve the same results as affluent suburbs of Chicago. In fact, the most reliable data I have seen suggests that American minority schools on average have slightly more money than white schools. It’s just that the social problems they face are too much to overcome for the schools. It is illogical to blame the public school system for things out of its hands.

So let’s start by removing those with foreign background immigrants from the sample when comparing European countries with each other. I define immigrants here as those with a parent born outside the country, so it includes second generation immigrants. This is fairly easy for Europe.

In the case of America, 99% of the population originates from other countries, be they England, Italy, Sweden, India, Africa, Hong-Kong or Mexico. If we want to isolate the effect of the United States public school system, we should compare the immigrant groups with their home country. For those majority of Americans whose ancestors originate from Europe, we obviously want to compare them with Europe. For some groups, such as Indians, this is inappropriate. The reason is that mainly the most gifted Indians get to migrate to America to work or study.

However, as I have argued previously, there is strong reason to believe that this problem of so called biased selection does not apply to historic European migration to the United States at the aggregate level. The people who left Europe were not better educated than those who stayed. Immigrants were perhaps more motivated, but often poorer than average.

So similar to my comparison of GDP levels, let us compare Americans with European ancestry (about 65% of the U.S population, and not some sort of elite) with Europeans in Europe. We remove Asians, Mexicans, African-Americans and other countries that are best compared to their home nations. In Europe, we remove immigrants.

The results are astonishing at least to me. Rather than being at the bottom of the class, United States students are 7th best out of 28, and far better than the average of Western European nations where they largely originate from.

The mean score of Americans with European ancestry is 524, compared to 506 in Europe, when first and second generation immigrants are excluded. So much for the bigoted notions that Americans are dumb and Europeans are smart. This is also opposed to everything I have been taught about the American public school system.

For Asian-American students (remember this includes Vietnam, Thailand and other less developed countries outside Northeast Asia), the mean PISA score is 534, same as 533 for the average of Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. Here we have two biases going in opposite directions: Asians in the U.S are selected. On the other hand we are comparing the richest and best scoring Asian countries with all Americans with origin in South and East Asia.

2. Policy-Implications

Libertarians in the United States have often claimed that the public school system (which has more than 90% of the students) is a disaster. They blame this on government control and on teachers unions. However, it is completely unfair to demand that a public school in southern California where most of the students are recent immigrants from Mexico whose parents have no experience in higher education (only 4% of all Mexican immigrates have a college degree, compared to over 50% of Indian immigrants) should perform as well as a private school in Silicon Valley.

The libertarians have no answer why European and Asian countries that also have public school systems score higher than the United States (unadjusted for demography). Top scoring Finland has strong teacher unions, just as California.

Similarly, the left claims that the American education system is horrible, because Americans don’t invest enough in education. The left has no answer when you point out that the United States spends insanely more than Europe and East Asia on education. According to the OECD, the United States spends about 50% more per pupil than the average for Western Europe, and 40% more than Japan.

Another policy implication is that Europe can learn from American public schools, which appear to be better than most European countries. I can only compare Sweden with the U.S, but I can tell you that from my experience, the American system is superior. I always thought this was just anecdotal evidence, but I am beginning to realize that American schools are indeed better.

For example, we don’t have any real equivalent to Advanced Placements classes. We have cheaper and worse textbooks. The teachers on average have far less education. I could go on.

Nor is it any longer a mystery to me why Americans spend so much more on education and (falsely appear) to get out less in output.

But of course the biggest implication is that most Europeans and all American liberals have lost the bragging right about their side being smarter than Americans.

3. Immigrant PISA scores compared to natives

This is again the mean difference of the 3 parts of PISA.

Australia is the only country with a negative gap, which means Australian immigrants actually score better than natives. Canada is similar. The Australian-Canadian skill based migration system is at work here, generating less inequality (even short term).

The other pattern appears to be that the gap is almost constant in the remaining Western European countries. This may be important to keep in mind, whenever people claim that uniquely Swedish policies are causing poor immigrant educational outcomes.

Learning the American Language, Stanford style

At Tongji University, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher education in China, Meng "Melissa" Xu designed a new fluorescent nanoparticle to detect pathological changes in the retina associated with diabetes.
Xu, now a graduate student in materials science and engineering at Stanford, is studying thermodynamics, nanobiotechnology and programming methodology.
Yet one recent afternoon, sitting in the Stanford Bookstore Café, she was puzzling over a decidedly nonscientific concept: "I'm proud to say she's my buttercup."
"What does buttercup mean," she asked Christopher Stroop, a doctoral candidate in history, pointing to the word she had underlined in the lyrics of All Shook Up, a rock 'n' roll song recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957.
Stroop is a tutor in the Language and Orientation Tutoring Program, which pairs graduate students in the humanities with international graduate students who are interested in improving their English language skills and also learning more about academic culture at Stanford and American popular culture.
Stroop, who explained I'm all shook upMy friends say I'm actin' wild as a bug and My insides shake like a leaf on a tree, told Xu that buttercup, a flower, was a term of endearment in the song – and then explained "term of endearment."
"A lot of the expressions in All Shook Up are just playful," he told her. "They're meant to be silly. They're meant to be fun."
"Oh," Xu said, a smile brightening her face. "I thought it was a small cup for holding butter," she said, forming an imaginary cup in the air with her hands.
Since the beginning of winter quarter, Stroop and Xu have been exploring American English through the medium of song. It is a journey that started with protest songs, delved into classic country and continued with the blues and early rock 'n' roll. Recently, the duo began exploring the blues and jazz.
"Using music to learn American culture and history is pretty fun," Xu said.
Stroop said songs help teach American geography, too.
"You can't really talk about blues, jazz and rock without talking about New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago and Harlem," he said. "Nor can you talk about alternative music without talking about Seattle. Songs often make geographical references. We used John Mellencamp's Pink Housestoward the beginning of the quarter, which talks about people taking vacations 'down at the Gulf of Mexico.' We have pulled up maps on Google. There's a lot more packed into music that will help foreigners with both linguistic and cultural orientation than you might think at first blush."

 Pairing up far-flung fields

This quarter, about 100 international graduate students are enrolled in the program, which provides free, one-on-one tutoring in weekly, one-hour sessions.
Stanford also offers group classes for international graduate students under the university'sEnglish for Foreign Students program.
Most of the international graduate students in the Language and Orientation Tutoring program speak Chinese (49 percent) or Korean (45 percent) as their native language. The rest speak Japanese, Portuguese, Thai and Arabic, said Bronwen Tate, a graduate student in comparative literature who has served as a tutor.
L.A. CiceroChristopher Stroop at a table with Meng Xu
Tutor Christopher Stroop has helped Meng Xu explore American English through music ranging from protest songs to early rock 'n' roll to country, blues and jazz.
Tate runs the program with Russell Berman, a professor of comparative literature and of German studies. The program was Berman's idea.
Tate said there is a wide range of English-speaking skills among international students in the program, which is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.
"Some have just arrived on campus and they're great scientists who read English really well, but are not at ease speaking it," she said.
"Some are in their third or fourth years of a doctoral program and are really pretty comfortable speaking English, but want to work on becoming more idiomatic, or on varying their vocabulary."
Tutors – currently, there are about 20 – receive $20 a session. Most of the tutors are PhD students in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages and the Department of Anthropology.
Tate said 65 percent of the international graduate students in the program are studying engineering. Twenty-five percent are enrolled in the School of Humanities and Sciences. The rest are studying business, education, law and medicine.
"Pairing humanities graduate students with international graduate students, primarily from STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, makes a lot of sense in both directions," said Berman.
"The international students get an opportunity to build their English and to learn about everyday culture, but the humanities graduate students – nearly all native English speakers, and all with excellent English language – benefit, too. They develop their profiles as teachers in this new setting, and they have an opportunity to learn from the STEM students about fields far from their own."
Tate's experiences as a tutor illustrate how far afield those fields could be.
For the past few years, Tate has been the managing editor of Mantis, an annual Stanford journal that publishes the work of talented poets, translators and critics around the world. As a tutor, she has conversed with a graduate student working in the Palanker Lab on an electronic retinal prosthesis; an earthquake expert working in structural engineering and geomechanics; and a PhD candidate studying at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics.

Howdy Pardner!

Lisa Barge, a graduate student in German studies, said the students she has tutored fall into two groups. Some want to work on a specific project, such as a slide presentation or journal article. Others want to learn how to talk to native speakers in a casual way. For all, the sessions are safe places to ask cultural questions: Is it OK to ask someone their political party? Why do Californians sunbathe?
Over the past year, Barge helped an international graduate student prepare to give a talk on quantum mechanics to high school students by editing his slides, listening to his presentation and peppering him with questions during a mock Q&A.
"When students prepare for a presentation, it is nearly impossible for them to accurately predict what questions they will be asked during the Q&A, so they cannot plan what to say in advance," Barge said.
"Practicing answering questions with a tutor helps them feel more comfortable speaking freely about their topic, instead of from a script."
She has joined another student to watch the television sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. He hits "pause" when he wants to discuss how a joke worked and why it was funny.
Barge used tongue twisters to help a South Korean graduate student practice the letters "r" and "l." They took turns reciting sentences like "Thirty-three thirsty, thundering thoroughbreds thumped Mr. Thurber on Thursday" and "Luke Luck likes lakes." Barge also recorded the sentences on the student's cell phone so she could listen to them later.
TED Talks – riveting talks by remarkable people – have been popular in the tutoring program. Viewers can toggle subtitles on and off on the videos, and can click on a transcript to find a particular moment in a talk. Once tutor and student have mined a talk for new vocabulary and discussed the speaker's ideas, the video provides a topic of conversation with someone else on campus – in the lab, at CoHo or at the gym.
Also, emails have been the focus of many tutoring sessions. Tutors help international students understand the difference between informal and formal writing styles, so they can learn how to write emails in the appropriate register.
Some emails, though, require a "translation" only a native speaker could give, like the one a Korean graduate student received from a lab partner. It was an invitation to a barbecue written in cowboy slang – buckaroos, rootin' tootin', howdy pardner!

Humor me

Non-fiction books have been a focal point of conversation between Jihee Kim, a PhD candidate inManagement Science and Engineering, and tutor Jeff Knott, a PhD candidate in East Asian Languages and Cultures.
"I wanted to learn about American politics, economics and social issues, and Jeff was the perfect person to talk to about these things," said Kim, who earned a bachelor's degree at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology – the M.I.T of Korea – in 2005 and a master's degree in economics at Stanford in 2011.
One of the books they discussed was Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard.
During a tutoring session, Kim would read a paragraph aloud, and Knott would correct her pronunciation, intonation and flow. Then they'd discuss the ideas in the selection she'd read, with Knott providing cultural and historical context.
Kim said it helps that Knott speaks Korean, which has a different sentence structure – subject-object-verb – than English.
"Jeff knows why I make certain mistakes, because he knows what's going on in my head," Kim said. "There are certain vowels and consonants I try to avoid using, but Jeff encourages me to try them."
During their tutoring sessions, Kim takes notes on vocabulary, idioms and pronunciation.
Among her notes are the following idioms: "slip like sand through your fingers," "sleep like a log," "humor me," "under the weather," "awe-inspiring," "I was writing like crazy" and "It took longer than I thought (it would)."
"We've been doing this together for more than a year," Kim said. "We spend about half the time talking about random things – our lives, politics, the news, the presidential campaign – and rest of the time talking about the book. He's a really good friend now."

© 2013 Analysis of international | National education statistics. All rights resevered. Designed by Templateism