|Leans to the left....|
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) describes PISA as follows:
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that focuses on 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies such as problem solving. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. Begun in 2000, PISA is administered every 3 years. Each administration includes assessments of all three subjects, but assesses one of the subjects in depth. The most recent administration was in 2009 and focused on reading literacy.
There are ways of considering these results that reveal that our public education system is first rate, and that our failures are not failures of education policy, but a colossal ethical lapse by a rich and powerful society that refuses to invest in its own future by failing to attend to the basic human needs of its youngest citizens.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) disaggregated the PISA results by poverty, with the metric being the number of students on free or reduced lunch. For example, when you compare US schools with free/reduced population of 10% or less with countries reporting less than 10% child poverty, the US schools outperform. Similarly, 10-25%. Over 25%, Mexico is the only comparable, and again, US schools outperform.
Frighteningly, the US is headed for a child poverty rate of 25%. And, even more amazingly, we have schools in this country with near 100% poverty. Where are the comps? Chad? Malawi? Looking at these results, its clear other developed nations don’t tolerate that sort of poverty among those who will be building their futures.
Poverty is a ball and chain on our education system. While as a professional educator I wholeheartedly support efforts to improve instruction, I have to ask can’t we at least move forward simultaneously on the problem of child poverty? This is not excuse making – its a both/and solution. We need a holistic approach to solving our nation’s problems, one which admits that economic upheaval, social dislocation, war, etc have an effect on education attainment, and also admits that educational success impacts our ability to address those other problems.
The Obama/Duncan approach tries to fix education by putting it in a silo – and worse, uses rhetoric which encourages people to believe that we can somehow educate our way out of systemic poverty. This burdens our education system with unrealistic expectations and distorts policy. Cut that ball and chain and the policies we would be looking at to improve education would be VERY different.
Compliance with testing mandates is not very high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for people living under what for most of us would be unimaginable conditions.