Expert shatters myths of students' test scores Challenges: U.S. schools might need less repetitious curricula and a new definition of "basic," a national conference of math and science teachers at Park School is told.

The Education Beat

November 11, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

FORTY-ONE NATIONS participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in eighth-grade science and mathematics in 1995.

If eighth-graders in Maryland had participated, how would they have stacked up, based on their performance on a similar test in the United States?

As usual, Maryland students would be in the middle, along with most other eighth-graders in Sweden, Iceland, Cyprus, the United States and 13 other nations.

We would be ahead of Iran, Portugal and Kuwait. We would be behind 10 nations in science and 19 nations in math, including France, Hungary, Russia, Ireland, Slovenia and Australia.

These are among the results released recently by the National Education Goals Panel, and they're based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an important nationwide test of student achievement.

The experts on testing don't want us to treat these results as an international Olympics, breathing a sigh of relief that at least "we" do better than lowly Iran.

One such expert, Leland S. Cogan, senior associate at the National Research Center at Michigan State University, was at Park School last week to shed some light on TIMSS. Some of what he had to say shattered myths that have grown around international comparisons.

Cogan said U.S. students' generally mediocre performance has less to do with the time spent studying science and math -- generally assumed to be the Yankee weakness -- than with the way U.S. schools arrange the curriculum in the two subjects and what we consider the "basics."

U.S. schools introduce algebra later than schools in most other countries, and while other nations present science and math in a well-ordered sequence, we keep repeating subjects as students move through the grades.

"We need a smaller number of topics in the curriculum," Cogan told an audience of teachers attending a national conference on science, mathematics and technology education at Park.

"We need less repetition from grade level to grade level. By the eighth grade around the world, students are studying algebra and geometry, for example, while many of our schools haven't got there yet. We need to challenge ourselves and our students to move on. We need a new definition of what's basic."

Look for more intensity in battle over vouchers

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a school voucher case from Wisconsin, look for a heating up of the voucher wars. Both sides have plenty of firepower -- money and propaganda outlets in which to pour it.

On one side are the public education establishment and the world's largest teachers' union, the 2.4 million-member National Education Association. On the other are the Roman Catholic Church, which wants a piece of the action, and hundreds of conservative and libertarian organizations seeking a share of the $300 billion American public education franchise.

If the NEA and other public education organizations have their outlets, so do the choice forces. School Reform News is a publication of the conservative Heartland Institute. It's full of depressing news about public education's failures. "Bad All Over" screams a headline in the publication's November issue.

$1.2 billion being doled out for class-size reduction

The U.S. Department of Education moved with uncommon alacrity to distribute the $1.2 billion appropriated by Congress two weeks ago for national class-size reduction.

Maryland gets $17.5 million, enough to hire 450 new teachers in 1999-2000.

The money, approved in the last hours of budget deliberations before Congress' return home for the election, will buy 30,000 teachers nationally, less than a third of the number President Clinton proposed in his 1998 State of the Union message.

The government's rationale for reducing class size can be found on the Department of Education's excellent Web site: www.ed.gov/pubs/ReducingClass.

Southeast schools plan to be discussed

The Southeast Education Task Force and two other community organizations will hold an assembly at 9 a.m. Saturday to discuss a draft education plan for Southeast Baltimore schools. The event will be held at St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church, Lakewood Avenue and Baltimore Street.

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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