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Why the US Ranks Last in Geometry

Date: Tue, 01 Dec 1998 11:23:00 -0800
From: Erwin Morton <[email protected]>
Reply-To: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
CC: John Knight <[email protected]>,
  Patsy Wang-Iverson <[email protected]>,
  "Guy F. Brandenburg" <[email protected]>,
  Mark Hall <[email protected]>,
  Gerry Meisels <[email protected]>,
  Francis Gardella <[email protected]>,
  Mary Jo Powell <[email protected]>
For nearly two weeks, timss-forum has been dominated--to its
detriment--by a flurry of messages to and from one person.  This traffic
has essentially stopped all other threads and made it difficult to
discuss anything except one man's personal agenda.

[NOTE: That "personal agenda" was simply a request of this forum to critique the TIMSS data displayed graphically at]

May I suggest that everyone reading or participating in this forum would
find it instructive to look at the following web sites--the home pages
of the sites repeatedly referenced by Mr. Knight:

See also:

In addition to the obvious I-have-a-point-to-prove orientation of these
sites, I note that the "close correlations" referenced by Mr. Knight
involve "selected countries", and not always the same number of
countries. What is the basis of the selection? Has the person who
created the graphs selected the countries that best fit the correlation
he desires?

[NOTE: All of the data points available from TIMSS were used to create the graphs. Anyone vaguely familiar with the data would know that not all data is available for all countries. Erwin failed to point out a specific data point which was available from TIMSS but which was not used in the graphs because there were no missing data points.]

[I believe that in this instance I can safely use the
pronoun "he" without fear of being labeled sexist.] How good is the
analysis of the data?

[NOTE: For what reason would a simple request for an "honest" critique of the data raise such ire with an educator who presumably would appreciate the effort put forth to evaluate an education system which spends more as a percent of GDP than most other nations, and whose 12th graders scores LAST in geometry education?]

Here is a specific example, drawn from one of the
web sites Mr. Knight cites:

The three graphs

all purport to show correlations between TIMSS scores and the percentage
of male teachers, in 7, 13, and 17 countries respectively. educate 32
(the 7-country graph) and educate31 (the 13-country graph) show the same
7 data points; educate31 adds 6 more countries, all of which have
predominantly *male* teachers and relatively *low* TIMSS scores (i.e.,
all six points are on the right and well below the fitted line). Yet
the (least-squares?) fitted line is identical on the two graphs! That
is, the extra six points have no apparent effect on the fit!

[NOTE: This ignores the fact that it is clear from that 6 of the 7 G-7 Countries have more male teachers than the US, that all of their 8th graders score considerably higher than the ours, and that there is an unmistakable correlation.

The caption on educate32 (7 countries) says TIMSS scores increase 1
point for each 1% increase in male teachers, while the caption on
educate31 (13 countries), with this trend obviously weakened if not even
reversed, says TIMSS scores increase *4* points for each 1% increase in
male teachers! (The trend line shown on the graphs actually increases
by about 2.5 points for every 1% increase in male teachers.)

[NOTE: This is the only honest contribution Erwin made to the debate. He is correct. The correlation is closer to 2.5 points than to 4 points. TIMSS Scores increase "only" 2.5 points for each 1% increase in the percent of male teachers.]

educate21, with more countries, adds more extreme outliers on *both*
sides of the line, and appears, at first glance, to have a rather low
correlation coefficient. But the same conclusion is drawn--4 points for
each 1%.

And nowhere, of course, is there a word about correlation coefficients,
fitting methods, error bars, etc., etc., etc.

[NOTE: "Nowhere, of course, is there a word about correlation coefficients, fitting methods,error bars, etc., etc., etc." from Erwin.]

Even if we ignore the sloppy mathematics, it is dangerous to select the
data that fit (or appear to fit, or can be made to appear to fit) the
thesis one is trying to demonstrate, and ignoring or rejecting all other
data by waving one's hand and labeling it outlying, discordant, or
nonconforming data.

[NOTE: On what basis can Erwin critique the data, fail to point out a single specific error, and still expect to have his cohorts embrace him as an "intellectual"?]

It is not a sound basis for research, for understanding, or for policy
decisions. It is a good way to delude ourselves, and an excellent
method for deluding others (intentionally or unintentionally).

[If Erwin were really concerned about this, he must simply point out specific data which is missing and refrain from vague assertions that it is "made to appear to fit".]

Remember also that even a true close correlation does not, in and of
itself, demonstrate causality.

Pretty graphs are impressive and memorable, and may seem convincing, but
we should be extremely cautious about accepting any of these conclusions
without verifying that both the data and its analysis are correct and
complete. We should also consider both what other interpretations might
be possible, and what other research sheds light on the same questions.

But, to quote Mr. Knight (Monday, Nov. 30):

> However, even without correcting these obvious erroneous data points,
> there is still such a close correlation between TIMSS Scores and the
> percent of teachers who are men that this probable factor cannot
> continue to be ignored
> [] It
> would not be appropriate to refocus the discussion on TIMSS data at
> this point, particularly if this *is* the root of the problem.

Yet even the graphs he cites do not confirm the correlation he claims.

[The graphs were reexamined for missing data, recreated to make sure nothing was missing, and posted at and timssmaleteachersg7.htm so you can be the judge about his claim that the data does not correlate.]

Again, quoting Mr. Knight:

> Such pop edudcation (sic) theories obviously don't work.

I could not agree more, but I doubt that he and I are speaking of the same theories.

The friendly folks at US TIMSS have been careful to distinguish among (a) what the data shows, (b) what the data suggests, (c) what questions
the data simply does not answer, and (d) what questions the data does not even address. I suggest we try to do the same.

[When the data from the friendly folks at US TIMSS is crosschecked with other data sources, the correlation looks more like timssmaleteachers.htm . I suggest we examine these friendly folks' data a little BIT closer and question why the data at shows that nobody in the world scored lower in geometry than American students out of 16 countries AND WHY THE DATA FROM THE MUCH HIGHER SCORING COUNTRIES LIKE KOREA, JAPAN, TAIWAN, HONG KONG, SINGAPORE, BELGIUM, SLOVAK REPUBLIC, HUNGARY, AUSTRALIA, IRELAND, ISRAEL, THAILAND, AND NORWAY IS NOT ON THIS CHART!?]

--Erwin Morton
[email protected]


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Table of TIMS Correlation
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Table of TIMSS Statistics
Ten Education Variables
Teachers Speak Out
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Erwin Morton Responds, First Post, Addendum
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