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Olympic Edu-Fencing! The Bob Wise vs. Fordham Edition

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It's still a day until the opening ceremony, and the edubloggers have already lined up on the starting line (though without their oxygen masks, it seems). Over at the Alliance for Excellent Education, former West Virginia governor Bob Wise announces his planned reporting on our academic standing in the world. And it seems that all of that smog has gone to his head. Here's an excerpt:
Many of the athletes coming here have trained to compete against their foreign counterparts. This is like America’s high school students, who also prepare for many years, and they also must now compete internationally….What would you say if I told you right now that our American athletes will finish far down the list of nations in this year’s Beijing Olympics? Well, I think you would say “Bob, that’s just crazy.” We train some of the best the fastest and the most agile athletes in the world. Why, in the 2004 games in Athens, the US ranked first in overall medal count. But while our United States athletes usually bring home the gold, silver, or bronze, there is one international competition this year in which our young people ranked 13th. I’m talking about HS graduation rates."
Decidedly cooler and more entertaining is the Fordham video, which previews their Olympics coverage. Here's what their website says:
This Friday, America's team of finely-tuned physical specimens will start piling up medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Meanwhile, their counterparts in the Education Olympics will face the world's best in a contest of academic acumen, an arena in which the United States has lost its edge in recent decades....Students will compete in 58 events based on four main international measures of student performance, as well as selected measures of educational attainment.
But comparing the international standing of the average US student with the international standing of our most elite athletes (as does Bob Wise) - and then decrying our relative lack of focus on academics - doesn't make a lot of sense. Take a field trip to Harvard, Yale, MIT, or Princeton and you'll see that our top students are taking names. Put them in an academic Olympics with students from Oxford, Tokyo University, and Peking University, and we'll do as well as we do in the Olympics. So I hope that my fellow bloggers will use this opportunity to drill down with these international data and look at how our high performers compare to other countries' high performers, how our poor students compare to other countries' poor students, etc.

As for me, I don't plan to think a lot about education during these Olympics - my eye is on Michael Phelps.
4 Comments

E, I think Wise and Fordham are referring to the Average Olympics, a concurrent event taking place in Dalian, China (an average Chinese city of only 5.4 million) where the mediocre athletes of the world go head to head in a battle of the middling. Why would they use an event that pits the top 1/2% of athletes to make a point about mean differences?

Some of my favorite events at the Average Olympics:

the median jump
the roughly parallel bars
almost synchronized swimming
the halfathalon

The Average Olympics! (snort)

Don't forget:

The 500 meter Run of the Mill
Pretty BadMinton
Archery, where everyone wants to be in the middle.

Well done, Doug and Nancy!

It is true that American student performance is languishing. In grade four, U.S. students out-perform their international peers in 65 percent of participating countries in math and science. By grade 12 they surpass only students from Cyprus and South Africa. “This is affecting all schools,” said Melinda Gates on the Oprah Winfrey show yesterday, (August 7, 2008), and she’s right not to blame such poor performance on poor children.

One in five American 8th graders who are not poor score below basic in NAEP math and reading. Close to two-thirds of non-poor 8th graders are not proficient in these core subjects. California, where one out of four high school students drop out, is a case in point.

At more than one in 10 affluent, middle-class public schools statewide, nearly 300 in all, less than half of the students in at least one grade level are proficient in English or math on the California Standards Test (CST). Less than one-third of those schools’ students are poor, few students are English language learners or have disabilities, parents are well educated, and most, if not all, of their teachers are certified. Those schools are in neighborhoods where median home prices approach, and even exceed, $1 million.

If we compare our Olympic athletes with average public school students, there’s an obvious performance difference. But consider how many choices our athletes have had long before they reached Beijing. They chose their sport, where they would practice, and even how often they would practice. In contrast, most American public school students are assigned to schools based on where their parents can afford to live. If we want Olympian performance from our students, then let them choose the schools that work best for them.

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  • evie: It is true that American student performance is languishing. In read more
  • eduwonkette: Well done, Doug and Nancy! read more
  • Nancy Flanagan: The Average Olympics! (snort) Don't forget: The 500 meter Run read more
  • Doug: E, I think Wise and Fordham are referring to the read more

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