Monday, November 27, 2017

Good News--American Students Just Don't Give A F**k

Remember all the angst that were expressed when American high school students did poorly on standardized tests compared to their international peers? There was much debate about the quality of our educational system, our culture that prized jocks while demeaning nerds, and our high income inequality that lead to underperformance in economically disadvantaged students. Now another study seems to show that maybe it's the American students themselves who are responsible for their low test scores. They just don't give a damn.

In a paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, scientists conducted a study comparing two groups of 10th graders in Massachusetts against similar high school students in Shanghai, China taking the same standardized tests. In a twist, half the students in each country were given a financial incentive to do well. One group of American students were told they would receive $1 for every correct answer while the control group got no money for taking the exam. The Chinese students were given the same deal.

And guess what, the American students who were given money did better than their classmates who received no money. However the Chinese students didn't show any improvement when money was offered. What did the scientists conclude? American students are raised like true capitalists. They are incentivized by cold hard cash. If in the previous international testing the Americans had achieved the same results as the paid students, the U.S. standing would have risen from 36th to 19th. Not top ten but still a huge jump. Americans just don't seem to care when taking a test that has no personal consequences.

By contrast, the Chinese students seemed to have had the test taking mentality drilled into them from early on. In a culture where a single test in high school can determine one's fate for the rest of their lives, testing is an all consuming event and takes precedence over every other daily activity. So yeah you can say that testing is very important to Chinese students. Not so much for American students.

So perhaps we shouldn't be so defeatist when we look at our education system relative to other countries. Our students are pretty smart. They're not going to give their best effort without some sort of reward for doing so. They're not test taking robots that other nations have trained their children to become. They just need to be bribed to do their very best, just like the rest of us. USA! USA!

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