"Why the Best Stay on Top in Latest Math and Science Tests"

This is the title of an opinion article published in Science Insider. It is a reaction to the newly released results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The opinion focuses primarily on the following impression: "The scientists who manage this quadrennial exercise say that a big reason why East Asian countries continue to lead the rest of the world is their ability to implement necessary improvements in their school systems." The ability to implement necessary reforms is equated by the author to a centralized education system. Citing the wide variation in standards and policies across the states then becomes as the main explanation on why the United States is not among the top in these exams.
To read this article, please visit Science Insider
It is very important to read what the International Study Center (ISC) at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College (the group that administers TIMSS) actually had to say with regard to the latest results to get a more complete overview or analysis. In their press release, the ISC enumerated the factors that influenced performance in the exams:
  • Home environment and preprimary education - Good performance in Grade IV Mathematics correlates with what parents provided their children before formal schooling. Engagement in play activities that involved numbers helps. Similarly, reading achievement is enhanced by parents who have read books to their preschool children and have encouraged telling stories, singing songs, and playing word games.
  • School environment - Good performance came from students in schools where there are no significant shortages in resources. Classrooms are not overcrowded and there is an adequate number of teaching staff.
  • Teachers - Good performance came from students who were taught by teachers who are generally happy with their career. Happy teachers produce good students.
  • Student attitudes - Students who performed well in the tests are interested in the subject. Those who like math did well in math, those who like science did well in science, and those who like to read did well in reading. Motivation is key.

In summary, what the ISC press release says is quite different from the Science Insider analysis. The Philippines did not participate in this latest TIMSS. The Philippines ranked lowest when the country participated in TIMSS and yet, the Philippines has a highly centralized education system. I would therefore go with the four factors that ISC listed above. Focusing on school curricula and administration often misses what really is important in education. The Philippines is one glaring example.