Note: filistro is currently on vacation. This article was written before she left, but in light of the discussion of cutting the education budget, it seems timely.
The long awaited OECD/PISA results are finally in, and they’re not stellar. At least, not for the United States. Paris-based OECD is an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries for cooperation in research and policy development on social and economic issues. Their tests assess the skills of 265,000 students around the globe (all of them 15 years old) in various subject areas, as well as sampling some of their opinions and attitudes.
U.S. students finished 15th in reading, 19th in math and 14th in science—in a study that ranked only 31 nations. Canadian students ranked higher than the Americans, but only slightly. Top performing nations were Finland, Korea, and Japan. Ranking worst in all major areas: Brazil, Mexico and Luxembourg.
U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige had this to say about the report:
Unfortunately, we are average across the board compared to other industrialized nations. In the global economy, these countries are our competitors. Average is not good enough for American kids. We see on the reading assessment that we have more kids scoring at the highest level than many participating countries. But we also see that we have more kids at the lowest level than some of the countries.
Site Selection has an article on the subject as well:
Across-the-board quality characterized the study’s top-scoring nations. No. 1 performers Finland, Japan and Korea, for example, were also among the countries with the narrowest gap between the highest and lowest performers. Korea was the nation with the smallest variation, indicating that all its schools were doing well in educating their students.
The study, however, didn’t pretend to have easy answers to why some nations’ students performed better. “Successful performance is attributable to a constellation of factors,” OECD Deputy Director for Education Barry McGaw said at a press briefing.
One factor the study did find: Students tended to do worse in nations in which there was a high degree of segregation along socioeconomic lines. In the United States, the study found a bigger difference among students from different schools and socioeconomic groups than in most other countries. Yet those same differences didn’t affect some other nations’ performances. “In Finland everyone does well and social background has little impact,” said Andreas Schleicher, deputy head of the Statistics and Indicators Division of OECD’s Directorate for Education, Employment, Labor and Social Affairs.
The quality of schools and education levels is a difficult problem, and one that needs to be addressed if North America is to retain its status in the world. Students in the west are getting fatter, lazier and less skilled in math, science and reading, precisely at a time when physical stamina and technical skills are at a premium if we are not only to remain competitive, but hold onto and protect what we have. In an era when one of the major western political parties chooses to mock educational accomplishment while it glorifies ignorance and refuses to spend money on its nation’s schools, it is difficult to see how that is going to happen.