U.S. schools aren't really falling behind
Arne Duncan has been grabbing as much media time as he can, sounding the alarm that the U.S. is losing it's dominant position in the global education race to the top. He's been calling the results from the latest PISA tests, "a wake-up call" in order to spread panic and push through his corporate reform agenda. Duncan, running through the town square shouting, "the Chinese are coming," "the Finns are coming," conjures up memories of Cold War rhetoric after the Russians put Sputnik up in space. The fear mongering volume was turned up again during the Reagan years with the publication of A Nation at Risk.
If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.In an official DOE press release, Duncan claims:
“Today’s PISA results show that America needs to urgently accelerate student learning to remain competitive in the global economy of the 21st century. More parents, teachers, and leaders need to recognize the reality that other high-achieving nations are both out-educating us and out-competing us....The results are especially troubling because PISA assesses applied knowledge and the higher-order thinking skills critical to success in the information age.”It turns out (as usual) that most of this is a pile of crap.
So says (not in those words, of course) Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at University of California-Berkeley, senior research associate at Harvard Law School, and director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University.
Writing in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Wadhwa argues:
"Much is made of the PISA test scores and rankings, but the international differences are actually quite small. Most of the U.S. ranking lags are not even statistically significant. The U.S. falls in the second rank on some measures and into the first on others. It produces more highest-performing students in science and reading than any other country does; in mathematics, it is second only to Japan. Moreover, one has to ask what the test results actually mean in the real world. Do high PISA rankings make students more likely to invent the next iPad? Google? I don't think so."