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Page 56: Global Study

For Math Students, Self-Esteem Might Not Equal High Scores

By Jay Mathews

Washington Post Staff Writer 

It is difficult to get through a day in an American school without hearing maxims such as these: “To succeed, you must believe in yourself,” and “To teach, you must relate the subject to the lives of students.”

But the Brookings Institution is reporting today that countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that don’t promote all that self-regard.

Consider Korea and Japan.

According to the Washington think tank’s annual Brown Center report on education, 6 percent of Korean eighth-graders surveyed expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39 percent of U.S. eighth-graders. But a respected international math assessment showed Koreans scoring far ahead of their peers in the United States, raising questions about the importance of self-esteem.

In Japan, the report found, 14 percent of math teachers surveyed said they aim to connect lessons to students’ lives, compared with 66 percent of U.S. math teachers. Yet the U.S. scores in eighth-grade math trail those of the Japanese, raising similar questions about the importance of practical relevance.

Tom Loveless, the report’s author, said that the findings do not mean that student happiness causes low achievement. But he wrote that his analysis of the international math assessment, the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, shows that U.S. schools should not be too quick to assume that happiness is what matters in the classroom.

“It is interesting that people grasp this notion in other areas of self-improvement — eating healthy foods, getting exercise, saving for retirement — but when it comes to education, for some reason, the limitations of happiness are forgotten,” Loveless wrote.

Several countries in Asia and some in Europe tend to beat the United States in math scores, even though their students show less satisfaction with performance and less love of math, and even though the lessons they receive are less “relevant,” the report found.

The report is likely to stoke a debate over teaching math and other subjects that has divided the United States for at least a century. Progressives say that what students choose to study and how they feel about education should matter as much, or more, in the classroom than test results; traditionalists say that gain requires some pain and that tests matter.

Alfie Kohn, a progressive author and lecturer, questioned the findings. “Let me get this straight,” Kohn said. “Kids who get higher scores on standardized tests are unhappy and self-doubting, so that means we should question the importance of happiness and self-confidence, rather than the importance of these tests?”

Gerald W. Bracey, an educational psychologist and columnist for the education journal Phi Delta Kappan, said the report overlooked countervailing trends in Japan, Singapore and other countries that do better than the United States on eighth-grade math tests. Officials in those countries say their education systems are not yielding graduates who have the same level of creativity as American graduates. Some Asian nations have begun to copy aspects of U.S. education, including the emphasis on letting students search for answers rather than memorize them.

The Brookings report notes that in most countries, including Korea and the United States, students who like math and think they are good at it have higher math scores than those who don’t. Perspective matters, Loveless wrote: Japanese students who would be considered good at the subject if they were in the United States think that they are not so good when compared with their peers in Japan.

The international test results from 2003 and related surveys from 46 countries show that the world’s most confident eighth-grade math students are found in the Middle East, Africa and the United States. Of the 10 countries with the highest levels of student confidence, only Israel and the United States scored higher than average on the international test, and their scores were far below those of the much less confident students in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The surveys asked teachers in each country whether they relate math lessons to daily life at least half of the time. In Chile, 87 percent of teachers answered affirmatively, the highest mark on the relevance scale. Japan was at the bottom of the list.

“The more relevant the math, the lower-scoring the nation,” Loveless wrote.

Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said the report shows that schools need not be fun to be effective. “Schools should work on academics, not feelings,” Finn said. “True self-esteem, self-confidence and happiness are born of true achievement.”

Page 91: Basketball
Page 213: Podcast - How to Become More Intelligent, Beginning Today

As more and more people come across the inside-out understanding, there is an ever growing list of materials available. As well as the various audio and video resources available on my own site, I’ve included links here to the work of Syd Banks, who first articulated the Three Principles I share in my books, and George Pransky and Elsie Spittle, who have been my personal mentors along the way…

Syd BanksSyd_Banks

Syd’s books, audios, and videos are deceptively simple (or deceptively complex, depending on your state of mind when you first encounter them!) Consequently, I recommend going through them multiple times. With the exception of The Missing Link, all of his books are written in parable form.




While Syd died in 2009, his website has been maintained and contains some short video clips and further information about his materials:

George Pransky

george-pransky-300x300The philosopher Colin Wilson labeled Dr. George Pransky “the greatest psychologist of our time”, and when I was first introduced to the principles behind the inside-out understanding, it was his work that both inspired me and led the way. Based on the work of Syd Banks, George evolved a “psychology of Mind” that identifies a deep understanding of state of mind and healthy psychological functioning as both the cause and effect of personal satisfaction and business success.

You can learn more about George’s books, audios, and programs at his website:

Elsie Spittle

elsie-spittle2Elsie Spittle was one of the few people who knew Syd before he had his profound insight, and had the privilege of receiving “on the job” training directly from him, travelling  to address mental health practitioners, educators, and others seeking a deeper understanding of life. Since then, Elsie has been invited to consult with all levels of executives and employees in the corporate world, and has been instrumental in transforming disadvantaged communities.

To learn more about Elsie’s books and programs, visit:

Caffeine for the Soul with Michal Neill

Weekly blog, video and podcast!

What a Misunderstanding about Satan taught me about the Potential of Coaching to Change the World

My early client work was fairly therapeutic in nature – people would come to me with panic attacks or phobias and I would help them change their scary thinking until that fear was no longer a factor in their lives. After a few years of doing that kind of work, I realized that while my clients felt better about feeling better, it rarely changed their lives…

On Deadlines, Pressure, Performance, and Productivity

I have written over a thousand blogs and written and/or contributed to over a dozen bestselling books over the past 20 years. And until a few years ago, there were two things I could absolutely guarantee would be part of my process.

First, I knew I would make my deadlines.

What If We Really Did Have ‘All the Resources We Ever Needed’?

What If We Already Know?

If you’ve ever worked with a coach, or been around personal growth of any sort, even had a mentor, or a loving teacher, then you might have come across the expression that

The client (student) always has the answer they need.

I gotta admit that used to really annoy me when I was on the other end of it.

On Being Inner-Directed

When I was an actor (several lifetimes ago), I realized fairly early on that I was really good at taking direction and pretty hit or miss when it came to coming up with ideas on my own. If a director told me to play a scene as though I secretly fancied the person I was confronting, or I had just been told I had a life-threatening illness, or as though I was scared out of my wits and trying really hard not to let it show, I would feel inspired and things would come through me that made me feel like Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Robert DeNiro rolled into one.

The Difference that Makes the Difference, part three

In part one of this blog series, I highlighted how caring about people and a job well done as being at the heart of excellence and effectiveness in business and in life. Then in part two, I spoke to the feeling of care and caring as being the natural response to recognizing our shared humanity and engaging fully with our lives instead of our thinking.

The Difference that Makes the Difference, part two

In part one of this blog, I shared what I’ve come to see as the critical differentiator between long-term sustainable success and the people and businesses who burn bright for a season or two and then lose heart, lose hope, and move on to the next thing, hoping it will be “the one”.

In order to thrive over time at whatever we do, we need to genuinely care – about the people we are with, the task at hand, the overarching mission or purpose , and our own well-being.

The Difference that Makes the Difference, part one

One of the questions I am eternally engaged with in my work is the search for “the special sauce” – the difference that makes the difference between the good and the great and between the one-hit wonder and the person or company who achieves long-term sustainable success. There are any number of books on the market that attempt to reverse-engineer the answer to this question by studying what high-achieving individuals and companies do differently and offering up a behavioral menu of options, ranging from Steven R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to the five keys to corporate turnaround outlined in Jim Collins business classic Good to Great.

The Creative Problem

People come to me all the time to talk about what they want to create and specifically, what they see as the barriers to creating. They complain about their personality quirks; that they are procrastinators or don’t have follow through. They lack discipline or confidence. My reply to them is always the same, “That’s simply not true. Your only problem when it comes to creating in life is you’re not actually in the creative problem that you want to solve.”

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