Are you by any chance familiar with the P I S A test? Perhaps like me you are acquainted with the test’s dismal results where American students are concerned, but the actual name of the test has remained a mystery--until now.
I recently stumbled across the answer to the mystery while reading an article in the New York Times entitled What The US Can Learn From Other Nations’ Schools. PISA stands for The Programme for International Student Assessment. The assessment is run every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The subject of the assessment is the scholastic performance in math, science and reading of more than a half-million 15-year-old students in over 70 countries; and the test doesn’t just asses the rote stuff they have been taught to enable them to get through standard tests. They are expected to solve new problems, identify patterns and assert their positions in writing. As the New York Times described it, “ It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.”
Apparently we in the United States, in spite of spending more per student than most any other country, don’t do particularly well on the PISA: Our kids trail in math compared with kids in most other developed countries. And math, as we are well aware, is crucial in the development of science, technology and engineering, the rest of the STEM subjects.
Why do we lag behind other, less well-funded national education systems? The answer isn’t, as many have supposed, poverty and high immigration. Those answers are belied by the experiences of higher scoring countries like Estonia with its severe child-poverty problem and Canada which takes in more immigrants per capita. As for some of the recent solutions favored here like smaller classes, apparently there is no positive correlation between that answer and higher grades on PISA.
So what does matter? What improvements do we need to make better our scores? Judging by the results, those nations that do the following generally have the higher scores:
- Make teaching prestigious and selective.
- Direct more resources to the neediest children.
- Enroll most children in high-quality preschools.
- Establish cultures of constant improvement in the schools.
- Apply rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.
After listing what works worldwide, the article goes to great pains to point out that the only one of the five improvements that the US is at present working on is the fifth: applying rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms (Yup, you guessed it--that’s short for Common Core!). And what is happening to Common Core? Yes, it is under attack everywhere!