Education Week - February 10, 2016 - (Page 20)

COMMENTARY America's 'Edu-Masochism' " By Martin Carnoy, Emma Garcia, & Tatiana Khavenson T Worrying about how schools in other nations are better than ours doesn't get us much closer to answers." he results of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, the test that is used to do an international ranking of students' academic performance, will be trumpeted later this year, and the responses will undoubtedly repeat those of previous years: U.S. officials will wring their hands and lament that American student achievement is stagnant, that it is lagging woefully behind our economic competitors', and that we therefore need to import features of schooling from higher-scoring countries. This edu-masochism-a distinctly American way of focusing on our educational shortcomings-can be traced at least back to the late 1950s and the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik. Perhaps the nation's early trailblazing successes in establishing mass schooling and developing a uniquely excellent system of higher education have left U.S. educators particularly vulnerable to charges that other nations are surpassing us. These fears unfortunately have led education policymakers astray. They focus on what other nations are achieving, and they iStockphoto fall prey to those urging us to copy Finland's, Singapore's, or South Korea's schooling practices. But why compare national student performance in the United States with average scores in other countries, when U.S. students attend schools in 51 separate education systems responsible to states and the District of Columbia, not the federal government? The U.S. education system is a construct that does not exist operationally. What's more, a well-respected test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides a state-by-state picture of our schools that is much more relevant than either PISA or other major international tests, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). President Barack Obama's signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act in December underscores this reality: Although the federal government retains the ability to measure and compare how different states are doing with NAEP, the new law makes clear that the authority to decide school policy resides with the states. Our recent study of two decades of PISA, TIMSS, and NAEP scores offers new data that highlight why education policymakers should emphasize national test results. To begin with, schools in the United States are not doing as poorly as international-test scores suggest. It makes sense to I'm Tired of 'Grit' R By James R. Delisle ory Storm and the Hurricanes were a band from Liverpool, England, who went to Hamburg, Germany's Cavern Club in 1960 to make their mark on the emerging pop-music scene. They didn't do well, releasing only two singles, neither of which made the Top 40 charts. But Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had an opening act that did a tad better. They were named the Beatles. Both played the same club, alternating six 90-minute performances each night for months. But only one band became a household name, while the other became a mere asterisk in the British Invasion. If you believe Malcolm Gladwell-he of the mindset that 10,000 hours of practice ("grit") will make even the biggest musical sow's ear into a silk purse-both the Beatles and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes should have been equally successful. But they weren't, causing me to question Gladwell's assertion in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success that the Beatles would not have become the Beatles without the Hamburg experience. What distinguished these two bands? I'm guessing that the Beatles, as individuals, had something innate that Rory and his buddies didn't possess: musical genius that was enhanced by practice, but not determined by it. The concept of "grit" has given both pop psychologists and those who discount the importance " The concept of 'grit' has given both pop psychologists and those who discount the importance of genetics yet one more mantra on which to hang their pseudo-theoretical hats." 20 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 10, 2016 | of genetics yet one more mantra on which to hang their pseudo-theoretical hats. Dismissing the role and importance of innate talents and abilities as true determinants of success, Gladwell chooses "practice, practice, practice" as the biggest driver of achievement. I half expected him to dedicate his book to Watty Piper, the author of The Little Engine That Could, as his views carry the same academic weight as that children's classic. Why am I so tired of grit? Here are three reasons: 1. As a concept, grit offers simplistic solutions to the complex topic of achievement. Every human being succeeds or fails for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes we don't try hard enough. Sometimes we're just not interested in the topic we're supposed to learn. And sometimes we are in an environment that makes learning difficult, as when we haven't eaten breakfast before school started, or when "acting smart" is a social stigma that's not worth the hassle to endure. But with just a bit of grit, everything is solved as long as we think the right way and rise up after we fall. By not considering the context of the learning process, the degree of interest in the topic under study, or the life circumstances that have powerful control over both our achievement and our emotions, the concept of grit dismisses all too casually some of the most important factors that pave the road to success. 2. Grit relegates the role of genetics and innate abilities to an afterthought. Proponents of grit pay a passing nod to the fact that some people are better at things than others. However, whether they want to admit it or not, some people are intellectual superstars, while others struggle to learn; some are Derek-Jeter-quality baseball players while others can't make it beyond the Little League; and some musicians do become the Beatles, while others-well, just recall Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. By discounting the vital role of genetically endowed abilities in virtually every human dimension-academics, the arts, athletics- advocates of grit are ignoring a century or more of psychology that points to the importance of innate abilities and talents. 3. Grit attempts to equate unequals as equals. In 1784, Thomas Jefferson proposed the establishment of schools where "boys of best genius" from impoverished backgrounds would get an advanced education in Greek, Latin, geography, and higher mathematics. After a year's trial at these schools, the most intelligent boys were to be retained for six more years of education, and the "residue dismissed." Granted, Jefferson's choice of the word "residue" is inappropriate, and his omission of females is patently offensive, by 21st-century standards, but his mission was clear: to identify and educate intelligent children in ways that respected their fine minds.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 10, 2016

Education Week - February 10, 2016
Federal Trade Regulators Target Brain-Training Product Claims
In States Hungry for Teachers, Policy Menu Expands
PARCC Scores Lower On Computer Exams
Equipping Parents on Spec. Ed.
News in Brief
Report Roundup
In Chicago, Schools’ Financial Crisis Deepens Divisions
Advocates’ Report Hits States For Overtesting, Other Policies
Blogs of the Week
Digital Directions: Partnership Boosts Data Privacy
Kindergarten: Less Play, More Academics (infographic
‘Proficiency’ Bars on State Tests Are Seen Heading Upward
Views Clash On K-12 Law Rulemaking
Blogs of the Week
Ed. Dept. CIO Grilled By Oversight Panel
State of the States
America’s ‘Edu-Masochism’
I’m Tired of ‘Grit’
Why Small Steps Are Better for Small Schools
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
In Low-Income Schools, Teachers Need Guidance

Education Week - February 10, 2016