USA is now ranked a ‘Second Tier’ country at well-being

❝ Some 17 others, including all of Scandinavia, outperform the U.S. by a wide margin when it comes to well-being.

❝ America leads the world when it comes to access to higher education. But when it comes to health, environmental protection, and fighting discrimination, it trails many other developed countries, according to the Social Progress Imperative, a U.S.-based nonprofit.

❝ The results of the group’s annual survey, which ranks nations based on 50 metrics, call to mind other reviews of national well-being, such as the World Happiness Report released in March, which was led by Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, or September’s Lancet study on sustainable development. In that one, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, and the U.S. took spots 1, 2, 3, and 28 — respectively…

❝ Of course it’s easy enough to dismiss or belittle these occasional reports, each with their unique methodologies and almost identical conclusions. Another approach, however, would be to look at them all together and conclude that they represent “mounting evidence.” In that case, Houston (and Dallas, New Orleans, Tulsa, St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York), we have a problem.

❝ SPI produces the report in part to help city, state, and national policymakers diagnose and (ideally) address their most pressing challenges. The group’s chief executive, Michael Green, said America “is failing to address basic human needs, equip citizens to improve their quality of life, protect the environment, and provide opportunity for everyone to make personal choices and reach their full potential.”

How many politicians – either of the pallid flavors we’re allowed – offer you the opportunity to vote in support of a platform containing similar ideals?

Will America learn anything from smart schools in other countries?

❝ Every three years, half a million 15-year-olds in 69 countries take a two-hour test designed to gauge their ability to think. Unlike other exams, the PISA, as it is known, does not assess what teenagers have memorized. Instead, it asks them to solve problems they haven’t seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.

The latest results…reveal the United States to be treading water in the middle of the pool. In math, American teenagers performed slightly worse than they usually do on the PISA — below average for the developed world, which means they scored worse than nearly three dozen countries. They did about the same as always in science and reading, which is to say average for the developed world.

❝ …That scoreboard is the least interesting part of the findings. More intriguing is what the PISA has revealed about which conditions seem to make smart countries smart. In that realm, the news was not all bad for American teenagers…

❝ Here’s what the models show: Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

❝ eOf all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so Mr. Schleicher did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America’s PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.)

But Andreas Schleicher urges Americans to work on the other lessons learned — and to keep the faith in their new standards. “I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” he said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”

❝ President-elect Donald J. Trump and Betsy DeVos, his nominee for education secretary, have called for the repeal of the Common Core. But since the federal government did not create or mandate the standards, it cannot easily repeal them. Standards like the Common Core exist in almost every high-performing education nation, from Poland to South Korea…

❝ For now, the PISA reveals brutal truths about America’s education system: Math, a subject that reliably predicts children’s future earnings, continues to be the United States’ weakest area at every income level. Nearly a third of American 15-year-olds are not meeting a baseline level of ability — the lowest level the O.E.C.D. believes children must reach in order to thrive as adults in the modern world.

❝ As we drift toward a world in which more good jobs will require Americans to think critically — and to repeatedly prove their abilities before and after they are hired — it is hard to imagine a more pressing national problem. “Your president-elect has promised to make America great again,” Mr. Schleicher said. But he warned, “He won’t be able to do that without fixing education.”

A number of nations, from Canada to Estonia, have proven themselves able to learn from the data stream of PISA testing. Results have improved. Education levels and the ability to utilize education in life and work has improved.

I won’t spend time criticizing the critics. They do a fair enough job of that – on their own. Though I have strong opinions [voiced here in the past]. What I will offer is the hope that our readers and anyone else who cares for the future of America’s children will fight for broadly democratic solutions that enable and equip all our children instead of just the privileged few. Public education – if you haven’t noticed – is in danger of death by $tarvation.

Netflix released a 12-minute film that makes real sense to engineers and developers


Click to enlarge

Netflix released a eerie original film noir this month called Meridian that combines a classic detective tale with bizarre visuals, loud special effects, and creepy imagery. The 12-minute film got 1.5 stars and a few reviews on Netflix. But it wasn’t made for casual viewers. It was released for developers and engineers…

Netflix is giving away the project for free on Xiph.org, which houses a collection of test media, so hardware manufacturers, codec developers, and even competitors like Amazon can experiment with it, Variety reported. They can test the performance of their algorithms and the way streams look on different devices using the footage, which is listed under the Creative Commons 4.0 license. It’s part of how Netflix is pushing Hollywood to think more like Silicon Valley.

“It’s a weird story wrapped up in a bunch of engineering requirements,” Chris Fetner, Netflix’s director for content partner operations, told the publication…

The film has top notch specs, so developers and engineers are working with highest quality Netflix streaming currently offers. It was shot in 4K HDR video with 60 frames per second with a peak brightness level of 4000 nits and Dolby Atmos audio…

Cinema nuts will enjoy the piece regardless. Interesting knowing you’re watching a technical lecture at the same time.

Graduation rates rise, knowledge skills decline – what’s wrong with this picture?


Click to enlarge

A sign in a classroom here at Berea High School, northwest of downtown in the largest urban district in the state, sends this powerful message: “Failure Is Not an Option. You Will Pass. You Will Learn. You Will Succeed.”

By one measure, Berea, with more than 1,000 pupils, is helping more students succeed than ever: The graduation rate, below 65 percent just four years ago, has jumped to more than 80 percent.

But that does not necessarily mean that all of Berea’s graduates, many of whom come from poor families, are ready for college — or even for the working world. According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.

It is a pattern repeated in other school districts across the state and country — urban, suburban and rural — where the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy…

The most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years…

RTFA for all the usual excuses, all the rationales consistent with a society run by beancounters. The value of what you get in return is rarely considered. Not only by the politicians. Parents and teachers get – and deserve – their share of stick.

“Social pass” is a beloved pair of words here in New Mexico. Purportedly liberal politicians say students should be moved along even if they can’t pass tests demonstrating basic skills. You shouldn’t harm their tender little souls – with standards. Nothing new about that. I first ran into students graduating from good schools in wealthy communities who were functional illiterates – over 50 years ago. Now, it’s everywhere.

Beancounters are even more in control. That includes some local teachers unions run strictly for job protection instead of contributing to standards that aid children in learning how to learn. Get past all of that and you have to deal with the current crop of fools calling themselves conservatives who believe education was best before we had public schools.