Yes, America Just Doesn't Educate Kids Like They Used To

Diane Ravitch will report it (even if the mainstream media doesn't in any real way) via Daily Kos:

Team USA has won the 2016 International Mathematics Olympiad

Two Americans were among the six individuals to make perfect scores in the competition, along with three contestants from Korea and one from China. The individual results are here.

This is a repeat of last year’s winning performance, which was considered a true breakthrough after 20 years without a win. 


Jet City mom said…
It would be more meaningful if background of each student was noted.
Are their parents engineers or physics professors?
How about delinating how much outside coaching and tutoring each student had, since as the website notes, - advanced topics covered in the competition, is not generally covered in high school curriculum.
Benjamin Leis said…

"The six members of this team have collectively taken nearly 40 classes from our online school and made more than 7000 posts on our message boards. We're proud to see AoPS students achieve so much!

Interested in participating in math competitions yourself? Learn more about our online school at, join the discussion on the community at, or check out our other resources at"

Making it to the IMO let alone winning is a huge undertaking and requires 1000s of hours of additional study in the same way any elite activity would. The AOPS story is also fairly amazing.
Benjamin Leis said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
z said…
Jet City Mom, what are you really asking/saying? You make it sound like tutoring and coaching is a bad thing. World-class skaters, gymnasts, athletes, or pretty much any skill at that level requires tons of work, tons of dedication, and yeah, involved parents.

You don't have a chance at being world-class weight-lifter without the discipline and genetics that allow it to happen. Same thing with these kinds of competitions. These kids are all phenoms with amazing natural abilities and dedication/training.

Also, do you really think it's cool to start digging into the kids' and their parents' backgrounds, and publish that out in public? Is that necessary in your mind for a kid to enter a mathematics competition?
Jet City Mom, the article does talk about these boys going to a camp to study.

Funny how academic achievements seemingly don't get the attention of musical and athlete achievements. These are kids who may change the world.
Anonymous said…
I think Jet City Mom's questions were legit, hinting at a larger issue. The title of Melissa's original post here suggests American schools are doing a great job, as does Diane Ravitch's comment that it won't be reported widely in the media because there's an interest in bashing teachers (presumably rather than building them up, which she thinks the publicity would do). The thing is, the success of the American team probably has NOTHING to do with our schools or teachers. These kids have all taken extensive coursework outside of school (and it's unclear if they've taken any math classes at their own high schools, and if so, whether these are public or private). Take a look at the catalog for AoPS--in addition to rigorous high school math classes, there a multitude of math competition prep classes. Lots of them, and taught by past winners of various math competitions. These kids have done extensive math work outside of school in order to get where they are, and good for them if this is their passion. But I fail to see how it reflects the success of the American educational system, or how publicizing the results would reflect positively on our teachers.

Half Full
I didn't hint that they are doing a great job. But I see the glass as half full as well - we are not in total educational crisis. Our public schools don't do well with the same kids they have always not done well with and that needs to change.

But this meme of American public education as "failing" is just not true. And, I didn't say one thing about teachers.

And Half Full you have no way of knowing why these young men did well and to say it
"probably" has nothing to do with their teachers or schools?

Tell you what, I'll try to use my citizen-reporter chops to find those boys and see what THEY say.

Half Full, I think the name "Pick and Choose" might have been the right moniker.

Again, so interesting that one small thread on an academic accomplishment has all this suspicion.
Anonymous said…
Sorry Melissa, I must have misinterpreted the title of your post. I'm still not sure what the title means, if it wasn't meant to suggest that America is educating kids well and that the math olympiad results are evidence of that.

You didn't say anything about teachers, but Diane Ravitch did (and I attributed that to her, not you).

It's not a surprise that these boys do a tremendous amount of math as extracurriculars. It doesn't take a lot of investigative chops to see that, but if you want to try to contact the boys and see what they say, that sounds like an interesting story. However, my point was that these kids won because they had a lot of additional support and instruction and training outside school. They participated in things like math circles, took independent study when they exhausted their school's curriculum, participated in the math olympiad summer boot camp, participated in lots of Art of Problem Solving classes, etc. They trained hard for these and other competitions, and that training was not school-based. I suppose I overstated things when I said their success had nothing to do with our schools and teachers--they probably took math at school growing up and found they were good at it and enjoyed it. But their participation on the American team, and the team's ultimate success, were the result of a whole different type of education and training. I'm not at all "suspicious" of it, just realistic.

Half Full
Anonymous said…
I think it reflects the success of our system because those kids come out of our system. In the same way, if none of our kids placed or did very well the results would be held up as proof that our system was no good. I am sure that these kids had a lot of additional support with extra classes, tutoring, and the like. However,I would be surprised if they weren't inspired along the way by a classroom teacher. Even though their success is probably not due to just the education they received during the school day, I still think it is something to celebrate.

Jet City mom said…
I agree with half full.
Too often we attribute success to "talent" or " luck", when it is actually a matter of lots and lots of trial and error, and blood, sweat & tears.
This discourages many who think success comes quickly & easily.
Anonymous said…
I would bet that all the kids in this competition did some sort of training. They were the elites of their country in math. What I found more interesting is seeing how many girls were involved. Also, most of the names no matter what country they were from, appeared to be Asian in origin.

Anonymous said…

Math Olympiad is such a great program. Does anyone know how many Seattle schools participate? My impression is that the number is low, but I could be wrong. I know other local math competitions are mostly filled by teams from east side schools.

I agree with Half Full too. Schools are very lucky if they have parent volunteers to run math clubs and give the children a chance to work on challenging math problems. Thank you parent volunteers.

it would be a wonderful goal for SPS to have the math Olympiad program at every school.

Anonymous said…

Interesting interview with the Olympiad coach by Valerie Strauss

It's worth taking a look at his weekly math problems at "expii solve" and the "Spirit of Ramanujan" initiative which seeks to discover mathematical talent around the world (open till Sept 15).


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