Saturday, October 7, 2017

National educational standard the key to improved education?

We could call it the lost years, where Trump's Dept. of Education Sec. Betsy DeVos took the nation off on a wild uncharted ride into an educational fantasy land, where parents feel good about knowing "what's best for the child," and schools equate religion with science.

We could also call it a national ideological experiment, where kids are used to prove a conservative theory. If the experiment fails, not one of those kids will be able to make up for their lost years.

The overarching point of the following report emphasizes a national standard, that allows for innovation at a local level while maintaining a set high standard. That's much different than the DeVos plan that does away with a national standard (Common Core) and accountability, letting education do whatever it wants, with no way to duplicated what works or discontinue what doesn't. 

Note: As you read the report from Ed Week below about the US PISA score, keep this important statement from the Economic Policy Institute in mind:
Conclusions like these (PISA score), which are often drawn from international test comparisons, are oversimplified, frequently exaggerated, and misleading. They ignore the complexity of test results and may lead policymakers to pursue inappropriate and even harmful reforms. A re-estimated U.S. average PISA score that adjusted for a student population in the United States that is more disadvantaged than populations in otherwise similar post-industrial countries, and for the over-sampling of students from the most-disadvantaged schools in a recent U.S. international assessment sample, finds that the U.S. average score in both reading and mathematics would be higher than official reports indicate (in the case of mathematics, substantially higher). This re-estimate would also improve the U.S. place in the international ranking of all OECD countries, bringing the U.S. average score to sixth in reading and 13th in math. 
Here's the Ed Week article:
The lead article in our current Center for International Education Benchmarking newsletter, on Germany's rise in the PISA league tables.  

In December 2001, German 15-year-olds performed well below the average of OECD countries, ranking 27th out of 30 countries in reading, 28th in mathematics, and 25th in science. Moreover, the results were highly inequitable; the gap between the highest performers and the lowest performers was higher than in any other industrialized country.

The “PISA shock,” as it was known, spurred policymakers into action. They adopted a sweeping series of reforms, including; 1. Vastly expanding early childhood education, including making early education and care an entitlement for all children age 1 and older; 2. Providing more autonomy to schools; 3. And creating national standards for student performance—a first in a country where education was the responsibility of the states. The ministers of education of the German states worked together to create their own "common core" state standards for student performance. The results were dramatic. In a few short years, Germany climbed to the top of the international rankings on PISA, and it has remained there. The plan was coherent and powerful.

The United States quarreled about standards and tests, blamed its poorly paid teachers for the poor performance of the schools and placed a lot of faith in choice as a school improvement strategy.

What is so striking about this story is that Germany and the U.S. were actually performing at virtually the same level on the 2000 PISA survey.  What was different was the national reaction to that performance. One is as likely to hear people talk about the evils of interstate standards as the need for them. There are bitter controversies among supporters of charter schools who think they should be regulated for quality and those who don't, but neither side seems to argue that charters would vault the United States into the ranks of the countries with the world's best education systems. There are the usual math wars, but there seems to be virtually no interest whatsoever in learning how more than 30 countries are outperforming the United States in mathematics.
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