08/24/2007 12:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Does The Ed in "ED in 08" Stand for Excrement Dissemination? Part 2

Eli Broad and Bill Gates have ponied up $60 million to "wake up the American people about their schools." The $60 million fuel a campaign to make education a major issue in the presidential election of 2008.

In a policy paper, ED in 08 says, "The average school year of nations participating in the Third International Math and Science Survey [sic--they can't even get the title right!] is 193 days, compared with 180 days in the U. S."

This is not true. We don't know what that average is.

In another place, ED in 08 says, "By the time they've graduated from high school, students in other countries have obtained the equivalent of one more year of education than their American counterparts."

Even if this is not a meaningless statement, we don't know if it's true.

Craig Jerald formerly of the Education Trust (and you know how I feel about them) now the director of policy for ED in 08 pointed to the source of both statements, "Getting Smarter, Becoming Fairer" from the Center for American Progress, another outfit that ain't doin' the right thing:

"The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), considered one of the gold standards in comparing student performance across countries, revealed that in only two of the 13 participating nations did students spend fewer days in school than American students. On average, students in participating nations spent 193 days annually in school, compared to only 180 in the U.S. Drawn out across 12 years of study, this 13-day annual deficit translates into a 156-day gap over an academic career -- or nearly one full school year. There is little doubt that the extra time students in other countries devote to education contributes to the differences in academic achievement."

Actually, there is a lot of doubt, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

It's about 80 percent of a year.

Most of you are likely stuck back in that statement about the 13 participating countries, since if you know anything about TIMSS, you know that there were 41 countries in the 1995 round, 38 in the 1999 incarnation, 45 in 2003. In the 1999 version, 13 countries stayed on for some benchmarking research and it is from those 13 nations that the figures about instructional days come. By country:

Korea 225
Japan 223
Taiwan 221
Italy 210
Czech Rep 197
Russian Fed 195
Netherlands 191
England 190
Canada 188
Singapore 180
U. S. 180
Hong Kong 176
Belgium (Fl) 175

Mean = 193. Median, which is the more appropriate statisitic here = 191 which lops another 24 days off that full year.

Since the legend reads "instructional days," I assume they've subtracted all those days in Japan that are used for parades, games, etc.

So the country with the highest score, Singapore, 604, has the same number of days as we do while those with fewer days also scored higher, HK at 582 and Belgium at 558. The U. S. scored 502, above the international average of 487, but only one country below average, Italy at 479, took part in the benchmarking part of TIMSS '99 so we have a bit of a selection problem here. Even so, it looks like days in school has nothing to do with score. In the absence of data for all 38 countries, the Center for American Progress and ED in 08 are committing the Base Rates Fallacy.*

In TIMSS 2003, the three nations with the largest number of annual instructional hours devoted to math, Philippines, Indonesia and Chile, were among the lowest scorers (pp. 34 and 270, TIMSS 2003 International Mathematics Report). Japan in 1999 ranked high among school days, but in 2003 was 30th in number of hours devoted to math while top ranked Singapore was 24th. The U. S. was 10th.

Once more, time and score seem unrelated.

Why is it that education "reformers" feel obligated to idealize education elsewhere and demonize it here? Why is it that organizations like Center for American Progress and ED in 08 feel they can write sloppy reports--as long as they put American schools in a bad light -- and that it doesn't matter?

After Bill Gates' demonizing speech to the National Governors Association in 2005 (Gates is 50 percent of the $60 million behind the ED in 08 campaign), I wrote an article, "Yo Bill Gates: If You're So Rich, How Come You Ain't Smart?" I wrote about the general fear-mongering tendency in Stanford Magazine's July/August 2006 issue, "Believing the Worst." Putting the title and "Bracey" into Google will pull up the article. A much shorter, but slightly more current version is here.

Somebody needs to shake up ED in 08. In the meantime, as my granma, a school teacher with an 8th grade education used to say, "Don't pay 'em no mind."

*The Base Rates fallacy occurs whenever a conclusion is drawn about a phenomenon without looking at the rate of some occurrence in the entire population (the base rate). An old famous one came early in the days of psychology when a psychologist performed autopsies on schizophrenics and found that over 90 percent of them suffered brain damage. Aha, schizophrenia must be cause by brain damage. A later study of autopsies on a matched group of normals (the base), though, found that 90 percent of them also had brain damage, ruling that out as the explanatory agent for causing schizophrenia.