National Headlines Regarding Public Education: My 2 Cents

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mindmeldEarlier this week, headlines across the nation blasted public education because of the results of another international assessment.  Articles sounded the alert  that United States students were performing far below their counterparts in other countries in reading, math, and science.  CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News all had commentaries on this topic and had panels of experts explaining why public education is failing; some were proposing going private while others were extoling the merits of charters without  accountability.

I don’t know about you but this type of sensationalism really bothers me.  Do we have schools that do not provide good instruction?  Yes!  Do we have schools that provide the very best instruction has to offer?  Again the answer is Yes!  Do I agree that we need some reform in Texas schools so that we are preparing the students for a future world in which they will live and work? Yes.  However I think before the media and pundits declare that we are all failures, we need to carefully analyze the historical data in which these headlines were born.

Diane Ravitch has done that homework for me and here is an excerpt from her blog dated 12/4/2013:

“Here is the background history that you need to know to interpret the PISA score release, as well as Secretary Duncan’s calculated effort to whip up national hysteria about our standing in the international league tables.

The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile.

International testing began in the mid-1960s with a test of mathematics. The First International Mathematics Study tested 13-year-olds and high-school seniors in 12 nations. American 13-year-olds scored significantly lower than students in nine other countries and ahead of students in only one. On a test given only to students currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students scored last, behind those in the 11 other nations. On a test given to seniors not currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students again scored last.

The First International Science Study was given in the late 1960s and early 1970s to 10-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and seniors. The 10-year-olds did well, scoring behind only the Japanese; the 14-year-olds were about average. Among students in the senior year of high school, Americans scored last of eleven school systems.

In the Second International Mathematics Study (1981-82), students in 15 systems were tested. The students were 13-year-olds and seniors. The younger group of U.S. students placed at or near the median on most tests. The American seniors placed at or near the bottom on almost every test. The “average Japanese students achieved higher than the top 5% of the U.S. students in college preparatory mathematics” and “the algebra achievement of our most able students (the top 1%) was lower than that of the top 1% of any other country.” (The quote is from Curtis C. McKnight and others, The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. Mathematics from an International Perspective, pp. 17, 26-27). I summarized the international assessments from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s in a book called National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (Brookings, 1995).

The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.”

 

Is doing the same something to celebrate–no,  but we do educate everyone– not just the intellectual elite and those that can afford it.  But as I stated before, I do think we need reform in many areas:

  1. Adopt a “no excuses” philosophy—ensure all students have the same quality of education– many of our schools that do not meet standards have a high percentage of poor minority-majority children.  The expectations, quality of teachers, and quality of instruction should be the same regardless of whether a school is a magnate or located in the poorest section of town.
  2. Teach every child– differentiate for all. Education should be student-centered, not adult-centered.
  3. Set the highest expectations for teachers– take out the trash– no child should have a poor teacher.
  4. Set a campus culture of high expectations, inclusion, safety and respect for all– adults and students.
  5. Have a curriculum that ties courses to real world and teaches students to access new knowledge to solve new problems– teach kids to be creative and think–
  6. Teach students the value of both teamwork in the classroom and independence.

Let’s all work for quality all the time;not just  when the media blows a statistic up  as super important.  That is my 2 cents for today!

Hope you all stay warm and safe as the “cold” front and potential ice storm moves in.

Rosemary Manges

Rosemary Manges, Program Coordinator for Inclusive Services, has over 39 years of educational experience ranging from the public school classroom, administration, preparing pre-service teachers at the college level to development of policy at TEA. She is in her 10th year at Region 10.

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