U.S. Math Education Still in the Doldrums

Every three years, the OECD, in the PISA assessment, studies 15-year-olds around the world to measure performance in reading, mathematics, and science. The results of the 2012 PISA assessment, which had a particular focus on mathematics, just came out and the United States does not fare well: "Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 26th." I worry not so much about the rank, but about the low absolute level of proficiency to get this rank.

The U.S. students' particular strengths and weaknesses are even more distressing:

Students in the United States have particular strengths in cognitively less-demanding mathematical skills and abilities, such as extracting single values from diagrams or handling well-structured formulae. They have particular weaknesses in items with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems.

What's Wrong With Cash for Grades? A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “What's Wrong With Cash for Grades?”

(You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

In it, Steve Levitt talks to Kai Ryssdal about whether it's effective to pay kids to do well in school. Levitt, along with John ListSusanne Neckermann, and Sally Sadoff, recently wrote up a working paper (PDF here) based on their field experiments in Chicago schools. Levitt blogged about the paper earlier; here's the Atlantic's take.

Exam High Schools: Not As Great As We Thought

Exam high schools are generally regarded as a cut above, turning out congressmen, scholars, and all-around high achievers. They account for over half of the top 109 American schools in the U.S. News and World Report best high schools list, and an incredible 20 out of 21 from Newsweek’s list of "public elite.”

But a new study from Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer of Harvard throws cold water on this notion, and calls into question whether the exam schools typically cited for excellence are, well, really all that excellent.

Writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dobbie and Fryer take a fresh look into the measurable achievements of exam school students, specifically focusing on three well-known schools in New York City: Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, and Stuyvesant. While attending an exam school might be great for your overall education, and resume, this doesn’t come through in terms of increased test scores or college achievement. Here's the abstract:

Another Case of Teacher Cheating, or Is It Just Altruism?

From the results of this year's high-school "maturity exam" in Poland (courtesy of reader Artur Janc), comes this histogram showing the distribution of scores for the required Polish language test, which is the only subject that all students are required to take, and pass.
Not quite a normal distribution. The dip and spike that occurs at around 21 points just happens to coincide with the cut-off score for passing the exam. Poland employs a fairly elaborate system to avoid bias and grade inflation: removing students' names from the exams, distributing them to thousands of teachers and graders across the country, employing a well-defined key to determine grades. But by the looks of these results, there's clearly some sort of bias going on.

Should the Digital Divide Be Closed?

Computer access and test scores.

Marginal Revolution on the Male/Female Math Gap

Alex Tabarrok over at Marginal Revolution has an interesting post on media coverage of the recent Science paper that argued against gender differences in math test scores. Tabarrok says that the media misreported the story and Larry Summers is still right.

Investing in Human Capital

I was pondering why many of my undergraduate students performed so poorly on my recent final exam when this video and a second one came across my desk. Perhaps my students are just investing in skills that are not tested on my exam. (Hat tip: Peter Thompson and Bob Warrington.)