WASHINGTON, DC – Reacting to today’s release of American students’ performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia made the following statement.

“In what has become the Olympics of academic performance, these international test results show that U.S. students’ performance is improving, but we are still a long way from being an educational Olympic-medal winner.

“The positive news is that the United States has stopped dropping in the international rankings, and there has even been some improvement in the mean scores in all three subjects since the last assessment, with significant gains in science. Most positively, approximately 25 percent of low-income students tested in the top quartile, showing that with the right support, every child can learn at a high level.

“In this ongoing educational Olympics, U.S. training has somewhat improved, but many of our competitors are still streaking by us to the medal ceremony. Hopefully the adoption of common core state standards, as well as the reforms underway in many states, will move the U.S. much further up the rankings in 2013.”

To learn more about the 2009 PISA results and what they mean for the United States, register for “Are American Students Prepared for the Global Economy?,” a live web event featuring Andreas Schleicher, head of the indicators and analysis division for OECD’s Directorate of Education that the Alliance is cohosting today from 2-4:00 p.m. (EST) with The Asia Society, Committee for Economic Development, Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Missed the webinar, but wrote on this over at KnowledgeWorks. The core argument:

    If Ed could be sixteen again, would he pursue math with the same intensity? Should he? What are the alternatives?

    Would he be captivated by programming instead?

    ..
    Some show this week went to Facebook headquarters and filmed the “engineers” at work on the next features of Facebook. Now, no doubt Facebook is changing the world. And there was a huge amount of mental intensity going on in those rooms. We can see that same world-changing and intensity in thousands of similar software companies.

    But I wonder. Are these guys engineers? Is spending 60 hour weeks programming Farmville, or FB’s new Profile layout, really STEM? More importantly, can you make the same contribution to Democracy as you might otherwise?

    I don’t know the answer.

  2. Is PISA “a Sputnik wake-up” or are international comparisons invalid. Rather than wade into that debate, I’d rather look more closely at the questions in the PISA test and what student responses tell us about American education. You can put international comparisons aside for that analysis.

    Are American students able to analyze, reason and communicate their ideas effectively? Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life? Have schools been forced to sacrifice creative problem solving for “adequate yearly progress” on state tests?

    I focus on a sample PISA question that offers insights into what American students can (and cannot do) in my post “Stop Worrying About Shanghai, What PISA Test Really Tells Us About American Students” http://bit.ly/eChNoY

  3. Peter, thanks for that work.

    Are American students able to analyze, reason, and communicate effectively? Communicate, certainly. Reason? That takes domain-specific knowledge. Analyze? Well,… “I don’t know”.

    To your third, have schools been forced to sacrifice creative problem solving to AYP, no. They may actually sacrifice it, but they shouldn’t and they aren’t forced to. That’s just bad pedagogy.

    Here’s the thing about American students: they can wrestle their way through World of Warcraft with all its complex and arcane domain-specific knowledge. Many of them have amazing accomplishment in music, dance, art, multiple sports, outdoorsmanship. They have deep understandings of the complexities of football offense (even if they don’t themselves play). Many take in a huge amount of political and other live news. Plus they explore the net in all its infinite possibilities. They’re taking Algebra and geometry at earlier ages, with Mandarin and who-knows-what thrown in.

    One can imagine that all this other domain-specific knowledge crowds out the bits required for timely answers to PISA questions. They may, in fact, think cars speed up on curves–it feels that way.

    From your examples, I explored math and science, plus your sequencing sample. Another valid question is, “Are top American 15-year-olds insulted by these questions?” They might be.

    It is also possible that teachers communicate their disdain for tests to these kids. Certain activists make their living whipping up opposition to testing; it’s got to propagate to students after awhile. One imagines Finland has no such movement.

    Yet the students themselves also have some sense of the relevance of one test vs another. Why should they care about PISA?

    One test I wish was mentioned more is the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Here’s a test that actually has meaning to students. How do they fair on it?

  4. Peter, thanks for that work.

    Are American students able to analyze, reason, and communicate effectively? Communicate, certainly. Reason? That takes domain-specific knowledge. Analyze? Well,… “I don’t know”.

    To your third, have schools been forced to sacrifice creative problem solving to AYP, no. They may actually sacrifice it, but they shouldn’t and they aren’t forced to. That’s just bad pedagogy.

    Here’s the thing about American students: they can wrestle their way through World of Warcraft with all its complex and arcane domain-specific knowledge. Many of them have amazing accomplishment in music, dance, art, multiple sports, outdoorsmanship. They have deep understandings of the complexities of football offense (even if they don’t themselves play). Many take in a huge amount of political and other live news. Plus they explore the net in all its infinite possibilities. They’re taking Algebra and geometry at earlier ages, with Mandarin and who-knows-what thrown in.

    One can imagine that all this other domain-specific knowledge crowds out the bits required for timely answers to PISA questions. They may, in fact, think cars speed up on curves–it feels that way.

    From your examples, I explored math and science, plus your sequencing sample. Another valid question is, “Are top American 15-year-olds insulted by these questions?” They might be.

    It is also possible that teachers communicate their disdain for tests to these kids. Certain activists make their living whipping up opposition to testing; it’s got to propagate to students after awhile. One imagines Finland has no such movement.

    Yet the students themselves also have some sense of the relevance of one test vs another. Why should they care about PISA?

    One test I wish was mentioned more is the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Here’s a test that actually has meaning to students. How do they fair on it?

    (recaptcha sucks)

  5. Ed, thanks for you reply. I won’t deny your assertions about American kids. I agree, they have many remarkable accomplishments. But I suspect that many of them are outside the context of the classroom.

    I’ve used this library automation question in workshops with teachers across the country. They freely admit that they spend far more time teaching students sequences rather than giving students opportunities to discover and develop sequences. I guess they are practicing that skill playing WoW.

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