Education Week - January 8, 2014 - (Page 20)

COMMENTARY I Why the U.S. Results on PISA Matter " By Eric A. Hanushek n 2012, 65 nations and education systems participated in the Program for International Student Assessment. These tests, covering mathematics, science, and reading, provide direct international comparisons of skills. Sadly for our nation, the recently released results are sobering. According to PISA, the United States placed significantly below the average for member-nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for mathematics-and significantly worse than the OECD distribution at both ends of the assessment spectrum, with more low performers and fewer high performers. The U.S. math performance is not statistically different from that of Norway, Portugal, Italy, Spain, the Russian Federation, the Slovak Republic, Lithuania, Sweden, and Hungary-not the most sought-after group of countries for comparison's sake. More disturbing, U.S. students' scores have been stagnant for the past decade. Since 2003, the United States has made virtually no gains, even as a range of countries made substantial ones. The most rapid PISA gains were made in very low-performing countries, such as Qatar and Kazakhstan. Yet some higher-performing nations also made substantial advances: Israel, Singapore, Italy, Poland, and Germany. Poland, for example, steadily improved over the past decade and now ranks eighth within the OECD (14th among all 65 participating countries or education systems). In the simplest terms, even among high-performing countries, change for the better is possible. A number of commentators have tried to counsel ignoring the results, and their misleading arguments-These test scores really do not matter- warrant correction. * Criticism One:We have a strong economy; in other words, we are not being pulled down by our schools. Indeed, we have had strong growth over the 30 years since A Nation at Risk first warned that schools were endangering our economy. But we also have the world's best economic system and institutions, and this has protected us from the deficiencies of our schools. It is also likely that we will not be so sheltered in the future and will have to rely on our skills (human capital). My analysis, with Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann, shows that long-term growth is closely related to the skills measured by assessments such as PISA. From historical experience, the differences in potential economic outcomes from improvements comparable to those seen in other countries are many multiples of the total cost of the 2008 recession until now. Moreover, the increased taxes and greater government intrusion necessarily implied by continuing U.S. deficits and long-term imbalances of Social Security and Medicare will weaken our economic institutions. At the same time, other countries have emulated many of the features of our economic institutions while producing improved human capital, which implies we may no longer be the world's leader in innovation in the future. * Criticism Two: The U.S. ranking is completely explained by poverty; we should be fixing poverty, not our schools. Various (poor-quality) analyses have suggested that, because the United States has a higher poverty rate than other industrialized countries, our low international-assessment scores can be explained by poverty. Indeed, in response to the PISA 2012 scores, the American Association of School Administrators (now called AASA, the School Superintendents Association) issued the following statement: "The problem we find in American education isn't that schools are 'falling behind,' it is that schools are 'pulling apart.' Poverty in America is the real issue behind today's education gap, and it means students can experience different education trajectories because of where they live." This is the association of school superintendents, arguing that it is poverty and not their schools to blame for poor achievement. But if the superintendents' group is correct, the United States would turn out the same share of high-performing students as other countries. To the contrary, only 9 percent of U.S. students perform at the highest proficiency levels in math (Levels 5 and 6), far below the 20 percent to 30 percent performing at that level in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Canada turns out almost twice as many high fliers as the United States. Moreover, if an income gap makes the United States unique, the percentage of American students performing well below proficiency in math should be higher in this nation than in countries with comparable average test scores. But that's not the case. In simplest terms, both top and bottom American students do poorly when compared with students in other industrialized countries." D Why Arne Duncan's PISA Comments Miss the Mark " By Robert Weintraub & David Weintraub ear Secretary Duncan: The U.S. Supreme Court justice and polymath Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. reportedly said: "I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." It's an im- portant statement in the context of school reform today. The results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, were released last month. Mr. Duncan, you stood with Angel Gurria, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which oversees PISA, and declared that the results for the United States "are straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation." When the results of the 2009 PISA were released, you said: "Americans need to wake up to this educational reality-instead of napping at the wheel while emerging competitors prepare their students for economic leadership." For these comments, Justice Holmes would not even give you a fig. As a father and son who have devoted a collective 45 years as rather passionate teachers and leaders in our public schools, we feel great dissonance when we hear the incessant critique of our failing schools, failing teachers, and failing school leaders. And, as educators who have always valued and emphasized depth of thinking in our teaching, we are disappointed in your superficial and simplistic interpretation of these scores. The scores to which you respond are the average scores. As in 2009, a much more detailed body of data is released several weeks after the average scores are unveiled. The average scores grab the headlines, but the disaggregated scores tell a much different story. Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein, in their The actual news about American schools, even on this flawed snapshot of our achievement, is much better than the misleading headlines." January 2013 report titled "What Do International Tests Really Show About U.S. Student Performance?," studied disaggregated data from the 2009 PISA. Their report for the Economic Policy Institute revealed important insights that might cause you to be more careful in your pronouncements. For example, 38 percent of American students who sat for the 2009 PISA were from the two lowest socioeconomic categories. That is by far the largest percentage of low-income test-takers among our comparative nations. And without getting into a debate with the "no excuses" crowd, it is incontrovertible that students from low-income families and communities throughout the world score far lower than students from more-advantaged families and communities on these tests. In 2009, the United States had the highest pov- erty rate-22 percent-of any of the comparative OECD nations, yet our PISA sample in 2009 included 38 percent low-income students. If our sampling was so skewed, what might the Shanghai or Singapore samples look like? It gives us little confidence in the validity of this test. And it doesn't take a statistics genius to predict that our average scores will be affected by these facts-and not in a positive way. Mr. Secretary, you do not include this kind of important information when you speak about our schools and our results. You settle for the simplicity of average scores-simplicity on this side of complexity. So how do our students' scores look when we compare them in a fairer, disaggregated manner? Much better. In fact, if you look carefully at our stu- 20 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 8, 2014 | dents' scores in comparison with those of countries with somewhat similar socioeconomic profiles- France, Germany, and the United Kingdom-our lower-income students score the highest among these nations, on both the 2009 PISA reading and math tests. American schools with fewer than 10 percent low-income students score at the very top. American schools with fewer than 25 percent lowincome students are near the top. The achievement gaps on the reading and math tests-between upper-income students and lower-income students- are smaller in the United States than in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The actual news about American schools, even on this flawed snapshot of our achievement, is much better than the misleading headlines, but you don't talk about this. Again, you settle for the simplicity of average scores. The press regularly communicates your unrelenting message that our mediocre schools are placing our nation's economic well-being at risk. Then, grounded in your incomplete interpretation of the test scores-and the accompanying denigration of American schools, American teachers, and American school leaders-our public schools, with your blessing, continue to be subjected to a wrong-headed, oppressive, top-down, one-size-fitsall school reform environment. The new Common Core State Standards and the alignment of instruction to the standards, the time-consuming annual standardized tests to assess student learning and teacher performance, a cumbersome teacher-evaluation system, competitive-compensation systems, and data-driven everything ... these are your instruments for school improvement, handed down to those of us at the schoolhouse.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 8, 2014

Education Week - January 8, 2014
State Legislators Fire Up Engines
Inspections Piloted for Teacher Prep
Student Views Shifting on Risks Of Marijuana
L.A. School Bridges Home-School Gap
InBloom Sputters as Data Privacy Hits the Spotlight
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Fariña to Lead N.Y.C. Public Schools
Judge Censures District’s Use of ‘Hess Report’
Los Angeles, D.C. Outshine Urban Peers in NAEP Gains
Blogs of the Week
Cloud Computing Expands, Raising Data-Privacy Concerns
Congressional Appropriators Turn To K-12 Spending Details
Rural Districts Win Big in Race To Top Awards
States Split Latest Pot of Early-Learning Aid
Blogs of the Week
ERIC A. HANUSHEK: Why the U.S. Results on PISA Matter
ROBERT WEINTRAUB & DAVID WEINTRAUB: Why Arne Duncan’s PISA Comments Miss the Mark
JACK DALE: Learning From a Test
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
PETER W. COOKSON JR.: Looking for Equity on the Yellow School Bus

Education Week - January 8, 2014