The U.S. MIGHT (remember few studies are replicable) have been 19th in the world in math (instead of 36th) if we’d bribed our students with $25

Here’s a puzzle:  if U.S. students do so badly on international tests, especially in math, how can it be that the U.S. economy is so strong? An educated workforce is supposedly a big predictor of a country’s income and annual growth. Yet the performance of American 15-year-olds on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, has always been lackluster. Since 2012, U.S. math scores have slumped down into the bottom half. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains the top economy in the world this year with over $19 trillion of goods and services produced. No other country even comes close.

A group of behavioral economists wondered if U.S. students are actually not as incompetent as their scores would suggest, but simply lazy when they’re taking the PISA exam. To test this, they created a PISA-like exam of just 25 questions and asked 447 sophomores at two different high schools to take it. Seconds before the test started, they surprised half the students at each school with an envelope of 25 one-dollar bills. The researchers told those students they would take away one dollar for each incorrect or unanswered question.

Guess what? Scores rose for the American teens who were bribed. The economists estimated that if U.S. students had put this much effort into the real PISA test, they would have scored 22 to 24 points higher in math, moving the U.S. from 36th to 19th in the 2012 international rankings. (The U.S. ranked 39th in 2015.)

The researchers conducted the same experiment in Shanghai, China, where students had posted the highest scores in the world on the actual 2012 PISA test. However, the bribe (in renminbi instead of U.S. dollars) didn’t make a difference. The bribed Chinese students scored the same as those who weren’t bribed. They both got almost twice as many questions right as the incentivized American students. (Click here if you want to try the test yourself.)

“We’re by no means fully closing the gap,” said Sally Sadoff, a behavioral economist at the Rady School of Management at the University of California at San Diego and one of six authors of the study. “But the incentive is a tool to show that U.S. students aren’t really trying as hard as they could.”

“We’re not saying we should throw out PISA. But the gaps we see are not just about ability, but [about] some combination of ability and motivation,” Sadoff added.

The working paper, “Measuring Success in Education: The Role of Effort on the Test Itself,” was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research in November 2017.

There’s no reason for U.S. students to try their best on the PISA test. It won’t help them get into college. They don’t even get to see their individual scores afterward. But the scores often influence policymakers. Often, there’s a rush to copy the educational models of countries that rank at the top. Or there are policy debates inside a country when scores slide.

Source: The U.S. might have been 19th in the world in math (instead of 36th) if we’d bribed our students with $25 – The Hechinger Report

Education Week: A National Yardstick for Gauging Math Progress

A National Yardstick for Gauging Math Progress

States Show Uneven Performance; Even Top Achievers Fall Short

By Christopher B. Swanson

To complement Quality Counts 2010’s exploration of reinvigorated interest in common standards and assessments on the national stage, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center conducted an original analysis intended to help ground these dynamic debates in a firm understanding of state performance in one core academic area.

via Education Week: A National Yardstick for Gauging Math Progress.

Achievement-Based Grading, Pass/Try Again Exit Exams

Quality First Grading and Coaching, Pro Pass/Try Again Grading, Exit Exams

email on Pass/Fail;  contra  7 ‘process’ themes as principles  for organizing Roamer Project-Challenges; f(x)=1/x:


* I recast most of the principles from the essay I threatened you with (“Creativity in the Information Age”) as one liners in the “Pedagogical Advantages of Roamer” & the “Teaching Principles” documents

* Didn’t have time to redo docs on PC, but the documents on the disk I included are, except for the .gif graphics, all Standard Word formatting this time and they should translate all right

* I do have a shorter a memo I’ll send tomorrow with some thoughts on the three Concerns of the Shanghai Board of Ed (as I understand them): (i) A Good Curriculum (Combining Academic Rigor with the Freedom to Develop the ‘Habit of Creativity’); (ii) A Good Assessment Program; (iii) A Good Teacher Training Program. The memo lays out a clear philosophy of teacher training and the classroom use of Roamer and I’d be interested to see what your colleagues in Shanghai think of it.

¶©´    ©¶´    ´©¶

Speaking of that, the one doc I couldn’t quite finish is the Annotated Project Tree which shows the Roamer Teaching Principles & Pedagogical Advantages _in action_, so to speak. It also shows how all the seven (what I call ‘process’) themes–(1) observe & imitate; (ii) compare & describe; (iii) identify goal & opportunity…etc.–that the Shanghai people have been considering as organizing principles are accounted for in almost _every_ Roamer Project Challenge as I’ve conceived them.

For example, “identify goal and opportunity”:

•     that is raison d’être of the Project Tree and Oral Exam Criteria Checklists: to help children IDENTIFY the goals and opportunities on the _first day of class_.

•     Then there are the Oral Exam Criteria Checklists (for receiving Pass/Fail credit for a Project Challenge): these help children keep track of goals & opportunities _as they work_ toward solving individual Project Challenges;

•     and finally: “flying colors” extra credit opportunities, a third level of goals: incentives to go ‘beyond excellence’  _after_ the regular Project is completed.

I could go on in the same way about every one of the seven themes. But you get the picture, I’m sure! Emphasize results—and organize activities around goals* —that require students to make something that works in the world & explain how they made it work* — not process, is my suggestion. When you do so the children internalize the goals and actively pursue them, the Teacher is transformed from Mr. “Makework” (What are you going to make us work on today, Mr. Teacher?) to the children’s greatest aid in achieving those goals (climbing the Project “Tree”).

Oral Pass/Fail Exams after every Roamer Project Challenge

(By the way, in case, as is likely, anyone questions the rigor or nature of my suggestion (plea!) for Oral Pass/Fail Exams after every Roamer Project Challenge, I should make a few things clear:

•     * First, they should really be called “Pass or Try Again” not Pass/Fail (the four “grades” I assign for an Oral are (i) Excellent (extra credit ‘senseless beauty’ ‘flying colors’ criteria were met); (ii) Good Work You Pass; (ii) Close, but Not Quite: fix these things and come back; (iv) Nowhere Near Close: what were you thinking!?** )

•     **Second, with the combination of strict criteria and the refusal of the Teacher to just give a grade and let it go, this kind of system is much more effective and rigorous than the traditional letter grade for each assignment system. I don’t say it’s crucial to the success of any hands-on technology and creativity program–it isn’t–but it’s adoption really makes a classroom take off– especially viz. creativity and independent problem solving.

****Finally, Uday, are closed form equations the same as ‘bounded’? and open form the same as ‘unbounded’? e.g., is f(x)=1/x an unbounded (i.e. ‘open’) equation for the interval 0-1, as x approaches 0, etc.?  If so, I think I understand something of your PhD endeavors on closed form equations (not the details! but I read this in Berlinski’s _A Tour of the Calculus_: that ‘theorems about ¶ itself, global in the sense that they reveal aspects of the continuous functions that hold for the whole of the interval on which they are continuous are typically very powerful and very hard to prove….the proofs of these theorems are generally thought to fall outside the domain of the calculus. They are in any case very subtle… these theorems are about ¶, but they are also about the processes that ¶ and functions like ¶ represent; and so they make a claim about the composition of the world, its true, correct, and inner nature……”). Is that the “MacGuffin,” as Alfred Hitchcock used to say? or am I on the wrong track completely?!

Talk to you both soon, Tom

PS I’ll check my email this week. If ryaneyes@aol.com bounces your mail back for some reason (a typo in my filter entry), try carlja@aol.com, which is open to hoi poloi!


* Break complex educational goals into simpler parts, link the parts together into staircases (e.g. Project “Trees”) of increasingly complex or difficult challenges (this approach makes accomplishing the main goal easier, gives children a sense of increasing power, of an immediate point or purpose to the work they did on earlier Projects, even if it’s real life aplications are for the time being remote (You cannot do this with organizing themes based on process: instead of work that seems to lead somewhere you will get the appearance of “one darn thing after another,” no point, no connections, no internalizing of goals, no interest…)

* When you do so the children internalize the goals and actively pursue them, the Teacher is transformed from Mr. “Makework” (What are you going to make us work on today, Mr. Teacher?) to the children’s greatest aid in achieving those goals (climbing the Project “Tree”).

** “Let’s look at the criteria again and see how you can go about passing this Project.”