Hating Good News

Next week, the international test results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) will be released.  The TIMSS testing is done only once every four years and includes exhaustive data not just about student test scores, but also about the structure of education in the 60 participating countries.

The test was last done in 2007 and showed how well American 4th and 8th grade students performed relative to their international peers. It is a different test than the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) but still a relevant yardstick for comparing international student performance.  PISA results were last released in 2010 to a clamor of media wailing about the sorry state of American schools. On the PISA, American students tended to score slightly above or near the average in reading, math and science. The TIMSS results, released last in 2008, barely got a mention in the national media.

Yet on the TIMSS, American students actually performed rather well:

In Mathematics, our 4th graders ranked 11th of 36 and our 8th graders were 9th of 48 countries participating.  In science, our 4th graders ranked 8th of 36 and our 8th graders ranked 11th of 48 countries. 

So who surpassed our students?

In math and science (both 4th and 8th grades), the top three scorers were Hong Kong, Singapore and Taipei -- all individual cities, not comparable whole nations.  Also scoring near the top were Japan and South Korea, homogeneous cultures proud of their lack of diversity.

If the 2011 TIMSS shows a decline over 2007 or if a few additional countries pull ahead of the US, expect a deluge of hand-wringing from every major media outlet.  If however, the US continues its traditionally strong showing against other nations, the event may pass virtually unnoticed.

For whatever reason, there is an appetite in the US for stories critical to our schools.  There is little interest in good news. As a principal, I used to beg our local newspapers and TV stations to cover our good news. They didn't. But give them a negative -- a bomb threat, a student arrested for animal abuse, a bus accident or a tragic student death -- and they'd show up with cameras and vans and accost staff and students readily.

My prediction?  Good news and paltry news coverage.