“Engagement isn’t necessarily a recipe for academic gains”

At schools around the globe, girls outscore boys, and bored students are better test takers than their more motivated peers. These topsy-turvy observations are the latest findings in a report from the Washington-based Brookings Institution, research that is part of a long-running series that aims to put a finger on the pulse of academics in the United States and abroad.

The study by Brookings scholar Tom Loveless is a pell-mell of counterintuitive findings that call into question many of the widely held tropes about what works in boosting student learning.

Loveless relied on data from the past 15 years of domestic and international assessments to conclude that:

  • On measures of student engagement, several countries noted for their superior performance on a much-cited international test—including Korea, Japan, Finland, Poland, and the Netherlands—rank below average on levels of student interest.
  • Increasing a student’s enjoyment of reading doesn’t correlate with improved reading scores, or at least such was the case when comparing student surveys to reading scores on an international assessment.
  • On measures of student motivation, many countries saw their math scores decline even though their students reported higher levels of motivation.
  • Meanwhile, some countries saw scores jump even though their students voiced less confidence.
  • Domestically and abroad, girls rule in school, a finding that is consistent with previous studies. Finland owes its heavyweight education status to its girls, as the nation’s boys trail by a wide margin behind the academic achievement of their female peers. In fact, every wealthy country—including the United States—has an education system where girls outperform boys. What’s really surprising is that by adulthood, that gap disappears.


Stephen By Stephen

About me


Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to my blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.