The Huffington Post reported today on a study that compares the math and science skills of students in American states and countries around the world.
According to the infographic above, Armenia appears to have received the ignominious distinction of being among the worst. The Anniston Star, that I’m going to go out on the limb and guess less Americans know than even Armenia, noted the “bad news” and seemed a bit disgruntled about being in the same category as Armenia.
Ever conscious of the possibility of the Armenian community to collectively bury its face in its hands from shame or call for the heads of everyone in the Armenian government, I wanted to take one step beyond the basic infographic above and lend some context.
However, I would like to note that there is no excuse for not pursuing excellence and I like to think I’m fully aware of the government’s shortcomings. I just happen to think that the best approach is not always bludgeoning each other to a pulp and then expecting that things will get better.
1) The comparison is based on the results of two different tests.
This is relevant because it seems the two tests are being compared in similarities in length and type of question and not on qualitative similarities. Nevertheless, this isn’t so much a problem of how the countries in the world (except the U.S.) compare to each other as it is with how U.S. states compare with those countries.
2) Armenia scored 467 in mathematics. But is that bad? Compared to Japan, which scored 570, yes. But how about compared to some others? Well, here are some countries Armenia scored better than in mathematics:
Romania (EU): 458
And although it didn’t score higher, Armenia was just below that loser of all losers in the international community, Norway, who racked up a whopping 475 points.
Oh, and Norway spends $4,595 of public money per capita on education. That’s $4,396 more than Armenia, which spends $199 per capita. Which brings me to the next point:
3) Nothing to brag about but Armenia spends significantly less per student than Alabama and pretty much everyone else.
Per capita (not per student) public spending on education:
(I used the percentage spent as reported by the NCES study, country GDP/capita as reported by the World Bank on Wikipedia and state GDP/capita on Wikipedia.)
United States: $2,998
South Korea (highest score in mathematics): $1,231
So, per dollar spent, Armenia has a much higher return in terms of test points.
Which leads me to the following conclusion:
4) Armenia may be the most efficient educator of children in the world.
Or darn close, according to this study.
To make the point (pun!), Armenia spends about 43 cents per point on the mathematics exam.
South Korea which scored highest in mathematics, spends $2 per point received.
Alabama, ranked the same as Armenia, spends $2.34 on education for every point on the mathematics test.
The United States, with an average score of 507, spent $5.91 per point.
Of course, relativity here does not count for much because if a student performs better on the test it’s better than if they didn’t perform well on the test. South Korean students are the best at mathematics and if it took spending $2 per point on education, so be it.
But when you look at Alabama spending almost two dollars more than Armenia and still getting the same score, it suggests that unlike Alabama, Armenia is doing something right, even if it’s not everything.
(Alabama, looks like you need to go to the emergency room because I just burned you.)
It is further encouraging to know that given the apparent ability of the education system of Armenia, a still-developing economy, to score as well as it did given scarily low spending on education, there is a good likelihood that things will get better before getting worse.
5) Ah, but what of the science, you say? After all, the tests were in mathematics AND science. Well, Armenia scored 437 in science which is admittedly among the lowest scores. But, being the optimist that I am, there is a silver lining:
Maybe if Georgia spent some money on the Armenians in Javakhk, it could up its scores the next time test time comes around.
And although the Anniston Star (from that place in Alabama) suggests that politicians from low-performing states should be sent to high-performing states, maybe they should send them to Armenia instead. It has Armenians just like Massachusetts does – and the food is better.
The full NCES report with all the data is here.
By: William Bairamian
Great blog Will – so informative and funny!
Very interesting article, I never put much faith in studies like this, most of the time these infographics try way too hard to simplify very complicated subjects.