The top scoring countries in Science and Math typically are Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, and the likes. The TIMSS study compared the padagogy, etc. and Department of Education has many publications on TIMSS data. Instead of looking at what goes on INSIDE the classroom, my plea is that we should look at what goes on OUTSIDE!
In these Asian countries, majority of the students go to tutor school and spend another few hours on homework. It is a simple no pain, no gain formula. They don't have better schools, better curricula, better teachers, better text books, better technology, better special ed, better school lunches, better school transportation programs, or better athletics. Their students simply spend more time on academics. Until we know how to download knowledge in students' brains, the quantity and quality of the studying the students put in is one of the top decisive factors. We have lots of statistics on gender, SES, and race differences. I think they chose the wrong independent variables in the way they analyse and present the data. My bet is if one were to do a factor analysis with hours studied added, this one parameter would have the highest coefficient of variation.
Are these Asian countries the ones to emulate? My opinion is a resounding NO! While they develop work ethics, ability to focus with their hard work, they underdevelop in being creative and higher level thinking. On the other hand, as long as schools "distract" students with atheletics, clubs and activities, the price is paid in academics. It is totally not my intention to do away with these programs (i.e. follow the Asian education model). It is merely a statement that we have to make our choices with eyes wide open. Time spent on family vacations, atheletics, socializing with friends, playing video games simply means time not spent on academics. Make the selection and understand the consequence.
Is it realistic to expect schools to magically come up with something to compensate for the neglect or lack of commitment on the part of the parents and students? Our schools are expected to do a lot. Maybe the main contribution of NCLB is to redirect the focus of schools. If you can't do everything, what MUST you do well???
Acknowledgement: Thanks Karen for the chart on where the performace bar is set.