Today is PISA day (no, not the leaning tower although, having lived there, it's great). That's the day when the results of the international test (the Program of International Student Assessment) are announced. (It's given every three years to 15-year olds around the globe and where we get our hair-pulling upset over US students versus students in other countries). The Answer Sheet has the U.S. breakout stats. Guess where the U.S. ended up? In the middle.
As Diane Ravitch points out, this has been going on since the U.S. started taking this test in the early '60s. And, since that time, the U.S. has grown into the strongest, most innovative economy in the world.
I'm not saying the scores are great; they aren't. But the hand-wringing is somewhat overwrought.
The U.S. actually did better in science than math which isn't something I would have predicted. I am surprised that the U.S. doesn't do better in reading where we scores about average. Massachusetts continues to lead the way in scoring for the U.S. and was only outperformed in reading by three countries.
The Answer Sheet compared Massachusetts scores with Florida scores because Massachusetts is at the top end of spending per student (over $14k) and Florida is near the bottom (at less than $9k).
One commenter at the AS nails it:
My own two cents, we have two school
systems in this country - one for poor kids and one for middle class and
up kids. The poor kids test poorly. The middle class and up kids don't
and many of them are the best students in the world.
Shanghai -a country smaller and less populated than our state of California is the country at the top
the class PISA list. Shanghai has mandatory education for 9 years - do
the math. Only the best students are left in school in Shanghai when
the PISA test is administered. In California 28% of the population
speaks Spanish as their primary language- the same language that was
primary when the border changed and the land was annexed by the US. Over
30% of Californians speak a different primary language. There are only
.5% registered foreigners in Shanghai. Reality check that by taking a
standardized test in a foreign language. (Editor's note; yes, Shanghai is NOT a country but the commenter goes on to say that comparing the US with a city is wrong.)
Diane Ravitch points to Yong Zhao's post (he was educated in China but is now at the University of Oregon):
In this post,
he reveals some inside information about PISA: Finland has slipped out
of the top tier. He says this is not because the quality of education
declined in Education in Finland slipped but because so many
test-centric Asian nations (and cities) participated.
“While the Finns are right to be concerned about their education, it
would be a huge mistake to believe that their education has gotten
worse. Finland’s slip in the PISA ranking has little to do with what
Finland has or has not done. It has been pushed down by others. In other
words, Finland’s education quality as measured by the PISA may have not
changed at all and remains strong, but the introduction of other
education systems that are even better at taking tests has made Finland
appear worse than it really is.”
And then he says this:
The recipe for the East Asian success is actually not that magical. It
includes all the elements that have been identified as the symptoms of
the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) by the great Finnish education scholar Pasi Sahlberg:
Competition, Standardization, Frequent Testing, and Privatization. In
East Asian high PISA performing systems, these ingredients are more
effectively combined and carried out to an extreme to result in entire
societies devoted to ensure that their youngsters become excellent test
“While the East Asian systems may enjoy being at the top of
international tests, they are not happy at all with the outcomes of
their education. They have recognized the damages of their education for
a long time and have taken actions to reform their systems. Recently,
the Chinese government again issued orders to lesson student academic
burden by reducing standardized tests and written homework in primary
schools. The Singaporeans have been working reforming its curriculum and
examination systems. The Koreans are working on implementing a “free
semester” for the secondary students. Eastern Asian parents are willing
and working hard to spend their life’s savings finding spots outside
these “best” education systems. Thus international schools, schools that
follow the less successful Western education model, have been in high
demand and continue to grow in East Asia. Tens of thousands of Chinese
and Korean parents send their children to study in Australia, the U.K.,
Canada, and the U.S. It is no exaggeration to say that that the majority
of the parents in China would send their children to an American school
instead of keeping them in the “best performing” Chinese system, if
they had the choice.”
Update: Graph showing poverty and PISA 2012 scores from School Finance 101.
From authors Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy (via The Answer Sheet):
Today, threats to the nation’s future prosperity come much less from
flaws in our education system than from insufficiently stimulative
fiscal policies which tolerate excessive unemployment, wasting much of
the education our young people have acquired; an outdated
infrastructure: regulatory and tax policies that reward speculation more
than productivity; an over-extended military; declining public
investment in research and innovation; a wasteful and inefficient health
care system; and the fact that typical workers and their families, no
matter how well educated, do not share in the fruits of productivity
growth as they once did. The best education system we can imagine can’t
succeed if we ignore these other problems.