Wednesday, December 8, 2010

International Test Rankings, Again.

The PISA test results are out, and once again the critics will note that American students are seriously lagging the rest of the industrialized countries in academic achievement. I would of course qualify that our students are lagging others in test scores - and what that actually means is what the real discussion should be. Certainly, some critics like Bill Gates or former Colorado Education Commissioner are going to argue this is a "wake up" call and a catastrophic moment in America's history. These cries have been the same since about 1983 with "A Nation at Risk." But, then, of course, the slacker American youth went out and invented the internet economy and participated in two glorious waves of economic expansion. At the same time, the rest of the world started to catch up to America economically, and passed America in test scores.

Certainly, these results of mediocrity, in which Americans are so completely average, are disturbing. And there is no doubt that American schools are lacking the rigor and effective instruction that many Finnish and South Korean schools exemplify. Much of this has to do with the entitlement of public education here, and a lot has to do with the conflict of skills versus effort that I mentioned in a previous post. Certainly, there is much we can and should do. Yet I am always suspicious of standardized test evaluations, knowing many American students asked to take the test simply don't take it seriously. My experience is the our best still compete with the best in the world, and even if they trail in test scores at fifteen, our top students are still turning into top doctors, engineers, scientists, inventors, businessmen/women, humanitarians, activists, parents, neighbors, and citizens.

So, Arne Duncan can call it a "wake up call," but he can't change the culture from Washington. That happens on a small scale with committed communities and individuals.


Jordan Crawford said...

I was surprised most by the very high scores of South Korea. I had not the faintest idea that they were such an education powerhouse.

Anonymous said...

Many Americans don't inculcate the value of education in our children. It shows.

Why should students care about tests and grades? Really. If there isn't anything in it for students that they want, what is the point?

mmazenko said...

The lack of value in education is our problem - and the inability of kids to value it without something inherently "in it for them. The students in the countries that are schooling us face serious competition for spots in higher ed and a better life. American kids don't face that kind of pressure and they have ample reason to think everything will be fine even if they don't really try that hard.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that competition or pressure are really the answer, but I agree that many don't try very hard. I think if people are excited by learning, the rest will pretty-much take care of itself.