Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"picture of educational stagnation"

Oh, Arne...
If you're anywhere in the education universe today, there's a good chance you may hear some mention of the PISA results. These are the Program of International Assessment results from last year's test, released last night. PISA was taken by 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science in 65 countries, including the US; three US states received their own results: Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida.
If you look at the above summary (that's Valerie Strauss, reprinting the basic rundown from PISA) you can sum up the local angle this way:

the US is doing about the same as it has been, and Massachusetts is continuing to rock the curve.
Enter the spin machines.

I'd say that Motoko Rich, from the New York Times, probably summed it up the best:
In the midst of increasingly polarized discussions about public education, the scores set off a familiar round of hand-wringing, blaming and credit-taking.
If you follow education at all, you can probably take it from there, which gives us the quote in the title from our U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I think it's fair here to point out that he became Secretary of Education in 2009, which is when the test was last taken, so if we're looking for top-down accountability, we can start there. We've got hand-wringing from business groups about global competition (at least this time I'm not seeing any read "Shanghai" as "all of China," so at least we've gotten that far).  We've got teachers groups pointing out that we've still done basically nothing on child poverty. And we'll have some complaints about the lack of standardized testing to measure what really matters.
I'm not giving links to all of the above; you can find it all in that NY Times article.
The Massachusetts results, of course, leave our educational leaders in a bit of a bind. They've been busily assuring us that everything's not been great, and so we must abandon the Mass state standards and the MCAS for the Common Core and the PARCC. You'd think that might put them in a tough spot going forward.
But bless our Commissioner; he never lets me down.
Here he is in the Globe this morning:
“We have a lot to be proud of in Massachusetts,” said Mitchell Chester, state commissioner for elementary and secondary education. “We have another marker showing our students perform better than most others in the world. But we still have room for improvement, particularly in math and science.”
...cue the comparison with Shanghai.
I'll leave it to others more knowledgeable about I than Shanghai to fill you in. Yong Zhao points out that the East Asian countries that have had rising PISA scores in recent years aren't satisfied with their educational systems' focus on testing. And Tom Loveless gives us this on Shanghai:
Shanghai’s population of 23-24 million people makes it about 1.7 percent of China’s estimated 1.35 billion people.  Shanghai is a Province-level municipality and has historically attracted the nation’s elites.  About 84 percent of Shanghai high school graduates go to college, compared to 24 percent nationally. Shanghai’s per capita GDP is more than twice that of China as a whole.  And Shanghai’s parents invest heavily in their children’s education outside of school.  According to deputy principal and director of the International Division at Peking University High School, Jiang Xuegin:
 Shanghai parents will annually spend on average of 6,000 yuan on English and math tutors and 9,600 yuan on weekend activities, such as tennis and piano. During the high school years, annual tutoring costs shoot up to 30,000 yuan and the cost of activities doubles to 19,200 yuan.
The typical Chinese worker cannot afford such vast sums.  Consider this: at the high school level, the total expenses for tutoring and weekend activities in Shanghai exceed what the average Chinese worker makes in a year (about 42,000 yuan or $6,861).
Anyone want to place a bet on Commissioner Chester advocating that we increase our educational spending in Massachusetts accordingly?
In addition, I have a real issue with this gamesmanship. The U.S. has not "dropped;" it's doing about the same. We've dropped in the rankings because other countries are improving their educational systems.
Isn't that good?
Do we really want to live in a world where we're doing better than everyone else because they're failing to education their children? More and more countries are spending more on education, educating more of their children,  educating their children for more of their lives.
This is a good thing!
I really, sincerely, do not care if we beat Shanghai. Or Finland or Poland or South Korea.
I do care that all children in rural China and Somalia and Afghanistan get a good education, regardless of how much education their parents have, where they live, if they're girls, or if they're wealthy.
That's the sort of world I want to live in, even if it means we fall in the PISA rankings.

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