WASHINGTON – Happiness proves no substitute for hard work at school,according to a report released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution.
The Brookings' Brown Center on Education Policy report finds that countries with students who say they enjoy mathematics scored much lower than countries that rank lower in mathematic enjoyment.
The results show that happiness is not everything,said Tom Loveless,Brown Center director The report also shows that kid-friendly word problems and math games have little relevance to improving student math achievement.
“The trend is toward leaner,meaner mathematics,” Loveless said. “I wish they'd done this 20 years ago” when word problems first became popular.
Nations with more confident students whose teachers strive to make math enjoyable and relevant to students' daily lives scored far lower than the international average.
For example,more than half of South African students reported that they liked math,but scored the lowest of 46 nations where eighth graders were tested. The country scored 264,well below the international average of 467.
In contrast,the analysis ranked South Korea third from last on math enjoyment,but the country scored 589,the highest score achieved by any nation.
Out of the 10 nations that reported high student confidence in math skills,only two – Israel and the United States – scored higher than the international average. The U.S. score was 504.
These scores are based on the large-scale international math assessment test,Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.
“It shows that kids are just having a ball with math in Botswana,Egypt,Morocco,” but scored well below the international average,Loveless said.
The analysis seems to dispute the belief that students learn better in a school environment that promotes self-esteem,said Pietro Nivola,a Brookings vice president.
“The gist of the answer is chummy schools are no better than stodgy schools,” Nivola said.
Colorful American textbooks also fall miserably short of their trimmer,simpler Singaporean counterpart,Loveless said.
“Textbook companies are giving American schools what they want,which is big,fat,fluffy books,” he said. “But some school systems are starting to buy the Singapore textbook,which is plain black and white and just pages and pages of math.”
The report also pointed to statistics in the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress that may lead to inaccurate measurements of student progress.
The NAEP,widely known as “the Nation's Report Card,” reports implausibly high increases in student ability,said Loveless,who described himself as a “friendly critic” of the NAEP. Large math gains reported by the NAEP since the mid-1990s do not correspond with data reported by TIMSS.
“This suggests that on mathematics,NAEP does not reflect international standards,” Loveless said. “This is worrisome for our nation and implies that simply producing results similar to NAEP is not necessarily a good indicator of quality.”
NAEP's quality may invite debate,but the national exam remains the only one of its kind,said Larry Feinberg,the assistant director of reporting and analysis for NAEP's distributor,the National Assessment Governing Board.
“Is it a good test?” Feinberg said. “Is it a fair test? Anything is open to dispute. …This is nothing new. But these exams are being prepared by a very broad consensus of experts.”
The Brookings' report also refutes claims that the 2002 No Child Left Behind education law has driven states to inflate their test scores artificially,Loveless said.
Many of the homogeneous nations treated as educational benchmarks cannot be compared to the diverse American student population,said Dorothy Rich,a veteran educator and president of the nonprofit organization MegaSkills Education Center.
“I wanted so much for him to say that the best of the best students are still ours,” Rich said of Loveless. “When you talk about the best of the best,when you look at the highest level of thinking and math and literature,it's still our students.”
The report does not suggest wholesale revisions to U.S. math programs.
“I'm not urging we make kids unhappy,” he said. “I'm not saying,‘Let's cut them off at the knees.' … It's just very interesting data.”