Archives for category: International

A reader posted this comment, in response to the story about Vietnamese students getting higher scores on PISA tests of math and science than U.S. students;

“According to the United Nations Statistics, only 77% of Vietnamese students are enrolled in secondary school, which means that the bottom 23% of test scores are eliminated for the Vietnamese case because those students are not in school to take the tests. (http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/indicators/SE.SEC.ENRR)

“I taught in China in the late 1990’s and have since taught hundreds of Chinese nationals in the US. My Chinese students who come here to study have explained to me multiple times that a large percentage of Chinese students don’t make it into an academic high school and therefore never study for these tests. By the way, the students come here to escape their test-driven system.

“When I started teaching high school in the US in the late 1990’s I was struck by how willing my American students were to take risks, experiment, and involve themselves in class discussions. They were intellectual risk-takers compared to the college students I had in China, who I could barely get to speak because of their fear of being wrong and their lack of experience with class discussion. (this is not a cultural observation – it is an institutional one)

“My college students in the US now, all products of the NCLB era, are more similar to my students in China. They are completely grade-focused, fail to see the bigger picture in the issues we are studying, and lack creativity or initiative. Every time I think we have just had a meaningful discussion about something important, one will pipe up and say, “how are you going to grade this?”

“I am tired of data and people’s unfailing belief that it there is a number attached to something, that means it is true. I have a master’s degree in Economics and was basically taught how to “massage the data,” which basically means make it say whatever your grant needs it say.

“I just watched a teacher spend 5 minutes yelling at a third grader about how to spell the word orange. Her face was red with anger and she was shouting, “is that the sound it makes?” No doubt this teacher was thinking of the student’s ability to make the grade on her upcoming exam and how the teacher might lose her job if she was rated ineffective.

“We have gone mad and our children are paying the price.”

Daniel Katz pulls together the events of the recent past and concludes that this has been a wasted era of school policy.

Both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are based on economic ideologies about incentives and sanctions that don’t apply to education. Both have interacted to distort the goals of schooling and both ignore individual differences and needs. We now know–and should always have known– that children are not molten pieces of lead waiting to be shaped or widgets waiting for commands.

Only one sector has thrived: the charter school industry.

Will we continue on this failed path or change direction?

In a newly released summary of PISA test scores, students in Vietnam had higher test scores than their 15-year-old peers in the U.S. and most European Union nations.

For some in the U.S. media, this will set off alarm bells, produce hand-wringing, and provoke fears of “a Sputnik moment,” arrived again.

A Vietnamese newspaper reported:

“Vietnam ranked 12th out of 76 economies in a new global education survey, overtaking the US and many EU countries, international media reported Wednesday.

“The rankings by the economic think tank OECD were based on 15-year-olds’ performance in maths and science tests. The US placed 28th while most of the EU, including Denmark, Sweden and the UK were outside the top 15.

“Asian economies dominated the top positions. Singapore took the top place, followed by Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, BBC reported.”

Andreas Schleicher of the OECD said the survey showed that Asian nations excel because they have excellent teachers with high expectations. “There’s a lot of rigor, a lot of focus and coherence,” he told BBC.” And he said that the test scores predicted future economic growth.

However, Vietnam’s deputy education commissioner took issue with Schleicher’s assessment of the PISA results.

“Nguyen Vinh Hien, Deputy Minister of Education and Training, told Tuoi Tre (youth) newspaper on Friday that the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, does not assess students’ overall competence…

“Even though PISA’s 2012 results, announced early this week, ranked Vietnam over many wealthy western countries, including the US, in math and science, “we have to be honest and admit that if fully assessed, Vietnamese students’ capacity is still poor,” Hien said….

“Dr. Giap Van Duong also wrote in the newspaper that compared to “the four pillars of education” prescribed by UNESCO–learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be–PISA targets only a small part of the first pillar.
Duong holds doctorates in physics and used to work with universities in England and Austria.

“He said PISA tests were limited because they use 15-year-olds as their subjects. At that age, students are still immature and their knowledge is far from meeting the demand of practical fields like business, administration, culture, and arts, he said.

“If the test targeted older people such as 20-year-old university students or 30-year-olds who are working, Vietnam’s results would “definitely” be much lower, according to Duong.

“In fact, many Vietnamese students fail to land a job after graduation. When they study overseas, many have difficulties in meeting the requirements of advanced education systems like team-work, problem solving and creativity, he said.”

“Duong went on to quote the Asian Productivity Organization’s 2012 report as saying that Vietnamese people’s productivity is about 20 times lower than that of American people.”

Duong added:

“Vietnamese education’s focus is on learning to pass exams. The whole system operates to serve only one purpose: exams.”

“Students here take exams to enroll in the first grade, the sixth-grade, the tenth-grade, and then universities, and every exam is “tense” and “competitive,” the scholar said.

“The tradition of learning to pass exams” is typical of Confucian education systems and is also found in other Asian countries like China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, he said.
All these countries ranked high in PISA tests, although their development is on par with or lower than that of the US and western countries.

“This indicated that the tradition probably affected the tests’ results, Duong said.

“He noted that among countries with Confucian traditions, Vietnam ranked the lowest, so there was no reason to be happy about the country’s ranking.”

No doubt in the U.S., groups promoting the Common Core, charters, and vouchers will take this summary as new evidence that American public education is failing to produce global competitors and that we need more rigor, more testing, and more standardization. Secretary Dumcan may make a statement saying these results are a “wake-up call” for Americans. As University of Oregon scholar Yong Zhao said at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago last month, Duncan gets more wake-up calls than anyone he knows but never wakes up.

The international tests are vastly overrated. It is not clear that the test-taking skills of 15-year-olds predict anything at all about the future of the economy. When the first international test of math was offered in 1964, 12 nations took it. The U.S. came in next to last in eighth grade and dead last in twelfth grade. Yet over the next fifty years, the U.S. economy outperformed the other 11 nations. The test scores predicted nothing at all.

As the Vietnamese deputy commissioner said, PISA measures only one dimension: test-taking skills. Whatever value the standardized tests have is overshadowed by the collateral damage they do to the quality of education and to the standardizing of young minds.

What matters most today is the liberation of minds to be creative, imaginative, compassionate, and collegial. The world is in a mess and we don’t need more fiercely competitive, me-first people. We need thoughtful and knowledgable people who know how to resolve conflicts. Above all, we need the one quality that the international tests can’t measure: Wisdom.

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education who blogs at Dianeravitch.net

Mercedes Schneider has transcribed Yong Zhao’s wonderful speech to the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education. This is the last of five posts; it includes links to all the previous transcritions.

If you enjoy the speech, be sure to watch the video (link included), so you can see Yong’s ingenious use of visuals.

Over 100 international organizations signed a statement critical of privatization of education in Kenya and Uganda. They specifically criticized the World Bank for endorsing a for-profit chain of schools called Bridge International Academies. According to the statement released today, “BIA is backed by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidiyar, and multinational publishing company Pearson, among others. It operates in Kenya and Uganda, with plans to invest in Nigeria, India and other countries. It now has close to 120,000 pupils enrolled in more than 400 schools.” The endorsers of the statement believe these countries need free public education with qualified teachers, not for-profit schools with untrained teachers.

The press release, with links, reads as follows:

Over 100 organisations around the world express deep concerns about the World Bank support for privatisation in education

Press release – 14 May 2015
(Nairobi, Kampala, Washington DC, Brussels)

Today, more than one hundred national and international organisations across the world released a joint open statement addressed to the president of the World Bank, Jim Kim. The statement expresses their deep concerns about the World Bank’s expressed support for the development of a multinational chain of low-fee profit-making private primary schools targeting poor families in Kenya and Uganda, Bridge International Academies (BIA). It comes as a response to a recent speech of the president of the World Bank, Jim Kim, who praised BIA as a means to alleviate poverty.

With signatories including community-based, national, and international organisations, as well as networks and trade unions representing thousands of organisations and millions of individuals in five continents, the statement reflects a growing global movement questioning policies in support for private education in developing countries, including from the World Bank. The statement was written and signed by 30 organisations in Uganda and Kenya, which are the countries primarily affected by the World Bank policy, and received the additional support of 116 organisations.

BIA uses highly standardised teaching methods, untrained low-paid teachers, and aggressive marketing strategies to target poor households, building on their aspiration to a better life to sell them its services.

According to a resident of Mathare, one of the oldest informal settlements in Nairobi, where BIA operates:

“Bridge, they come here, but they don’t understand how things work. They don’t work with other schools, with the community. They just come from door to door to sell their product.”

Nevertheless, the World Bank has invested 10 million dollars in BIA, while on the other hand it has no active or planned investments in either Kenya or Uganda’s public basic education systems.

In his speech delivered earlier in April, Jim Kim claimed that that “average scores for reading and math have risen high above their public school peers” in Bridge International Academies. Yet, the source of the data quoted by Jim Kim has not been disclosed by the World Bank, and it appears to have been taken directly from a study conducted by BIA itself.

The World Bank president further stated that “the cost per student at Bridge Academies is just $6 dollars a month”. This suggestion that $6 is an acceptable amount of money for poor households to pay reveals a profound lack of understanding of the reality of the lives of the poorest. Kenyan and Ugandan organisations have calculated that for half of the population in Kenya and Uganda, spending $6 per month per child to send three primary school age children to a Bridge Academy would cost at least a quarter of their monthly income – whereas these families are already struggling to be able to provide three meals a day to their children.

Moreover, the real total cost of sending one child to a Bridge school may in fact be between $9 and $13 a month, and up to $20 when including school meals. Based on these figures, sending three children to BIA would represent 68% (in Kenya) to 75% (in Uganda) of the monthly income of half the population in these countries.

Salima Namusobya, the Director of the Initiative for Socio-Economic Rights, a Ugandan organisation that also signed the joint statement, said:

“If the World Bank is genuine about fulfilling its mission to provide every child with the chance to have a high-quality primary education regardless of their family’s income, they should be campaigning for a no-fee system in particular contexts like that of Uganda.
The speech from Jim Kim came shortly after members of civil society from several countries, including Uganda, met with senior education officials of the World Bank specifically to discuss its support for fee-charging, private primary schools, and funding for BIA in particular.

It also comes at a time where there is an unprecedented increase in financing of private education across the world, especially in Africa, often with the support of foreign investors. These investments have attracted equally growing criticism, including in a recent report highlighting how the UK government, via its Department for International Development (DfID), supports privatising education and health services. DfID is also an investor in Bridge International Academies.
The organisations’ statement calls on the World Bank in particular to stop promoting and cease investing in Bridge International Academies and other fee-charging, private providers of basic education, and instead to support the free, public, quality education which the laws applicable in Kenya, Uganda, and other countries require.

Notes

BIA is backed by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidiya, and multinational publishing company Pearson, among others. It operates in Kenya and Uganda, with plans to invest in Nigeria, India and other countries. It now has close to 120,000 pupils enrolled in more than 400 schools.

Documents

* The statement can be found on http://bit.ly/statementWBprivatisation

* The letter accompanying the statement sent to Jim Kim, and which sums up the arguments made in the statement, can be found on http://bit.ly/letterWBprivatisation

* For more information on privatisation in education and projects currently being run, check http://bit.ly/privatisationproject.

* Follow the hashtag #EducationBeforeProfit on social media

Contacts

David Edwards, Education International Deputy General Secretary, via email: David.Edwards@ei-ie.org or mobile: 0032 473 84 73 61

Education International
Internationale de l’Éducation
Internacional de la Educación

Communications,
Head Office|5 bd du Roi Albert II|1210 Brussels |Belgium
Tel.:+32 2 224
06 11 | Fax: +32 2 224 06 06 | http://www.ei-ie.org

Nicholas Kristof seems to have a very big hatred for American public education. Did he go to public schools? Did he have horrible teachers? What does he have against this democratic institution that is part of the fabric of every community in the nation?

 

The Daily Howler, which catches journalistic fraud, lambastes Kristof for cherry-picking statistics to make American students look stupid.

 

In his latest screed against our schools and teachers, Kristof offers an example of a question on TIMSS where American students got a low score. There were 88 sample questions. Kristof picked the question where American students did the worst.

 

In a remarkably deceptive way, Kristof cherry-picked through that long list of questions. The question about the three consecutive numbers is, quite literally, the question on which American kids did least well out of all 88 as compared to the rest of the world.

 

Let’s make sure you understand that! Quite deliberately, Kristof chose the least representative example out of 88 possible items.

 

He led his column with that unrepresentative example. He then pretended it shows that stupid-ass Johnny “can’t count.”

 

Assuming the TIMSS data are accurate, why did American kids perform so poorly on that one question? We have no idea. We also can’t explain why American kids outscored every nation, including Singapore, on the question called “Median number of staff members.” But, by God, they did!

 

In fact, they outperformed all nations, including Singapore, by a wide margin on that one question. An equally dishonest person could cherry-pick that one example to advance the false impression that U.S. eighth-graders lead the world in math…..

 

Please. On the test to which Kristof referred, American kids basically matched their counterparts in Finland. They outscored glorious Sweden by 25 points, with its average score of 484.

 

Germany didn’t take part on the eighth grade level in 2011. It did participate at the fourth grade level, where its kids were outscored by kids from the U.S.

 

(Other scores in Grade 8 math: Great Britain 507, Australia 505, Italy 498, Norway 475.)

 

“We know Johnny can’t read; it appears that Johnny is even worse at counting!” It’s hard to imagine why someone like Kristof would want to write such a thing. But such deceptions are completely routine within our upper-end press corps. This has been the reliable norm for a very long time.

 

We know of no topic on which Americans are so persistently disinformed by American pseudo-journalists. Yesterday, Kristof took the dissembling and the deception to a remarkable low.

 

Kristof seems to get stranger by the month. As Shakespeare thoughtfully asked, “On what meat doth this our Times pseudo-journalist feed?”

 

Just for the record: The other examples Kristof presents are also cherry-picked. He had to sift through 88 examples to mislead his readers so.

 

Why in the world would a life-form like Kristof deceive his readers this way? Beyond that, what makes him so eager to denigrate American kids?

 

 

PS: Thanks to reader Chiara for bringing this post to my attention in the comments.

 

A few days ago, I posted an article by Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, in which he explained that Finnish teachers are not “the best and the brightest,” but those who are bright, caring, and committed to a career in education.

 

One of our regular readers, who often is a contrarian, posted the following critical comment:

 

I would like to hear Sahlberg’s thoughts on the massive gender gap in Finnish reading scores. Finnish boys’ PISA scores are statistically indistinguishable from US boys’, and Finland’s boy-girl gap is by far the largest in the world, about twice as large as the US gap.

 

Perhaps there are some reasons to hold off on emulating Finland.

 

I contacted Pasi, who is a personal friend, and he replied:

 
Thanks for the question. Indeed, this is a big issue in Finland and has been
for awhile. And not only in reading but across the board of academic
subjects. One thing that makes gender gap in reading so big is
exceptionally high reading literacy performance (and positive reading
habits) among Finnish girls. Researchers are well aware of this and
policymakers try to find ways to engage boys more in reading and schooling
in general. Recent emphasis on theme or phenomenon based teaching and
learning is one step.

 

I asked him whether girls outperform boys in math as well, and he said yes, but not so much as in reading. Finland is the only OECD nation where the gender gap favors girls.

 

There is your answer, Tim.

 

 

Pasi Sahlberg, the great Finnish educator who is teaching this year at Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote recently to explain how Finnish universities select future teachers.

Finnish universities are famously selective,accepting only 10% of the high school graduates who want to become teachers. But how do they select? Sahlberg’s very bright niece was turned down when she first applied.

So what is the selection process?

Sahlberg writes:

“Who exactly are those who were chosen to become primary teachers in Finland ahead of my niece? Let’s take closer look at the academic profile of the first-year cohort selected at the University of Helsinki. The entrance test has two phases. All students must first take a national written test. The best performers in this are invited on to the second phase, to take the university’s specific aptitude test. At the University of Helsinki, 60% of the accepted 120 students were selected on a combination of their score on the entrance test and their points on the subject exams they took to complete their upper-secondary education; 40% of students were awarded a study place based on their score on the entrance test alone.

“Last spring, 1,650 students took the national written test to compete for those 120 places at the University of Helsinki. Applicants received between one and 100 points for the subject exams taken to earn upper-secondary school leaving diplomas. A quarter of the accepted students came from the top 20% in academic ability and another quarter came from the bottom half. This means that half of the first-year students came from the 51- to 80-point range of measured academic ability. You could call them academically average. The idea that Finland recruits the academically “best and brightest” to become teachers is a myth. In fact, the student cohort represents a diverse range of academic success, and deliberately so.

“A good step forward would be to admit that academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers
If Finnish teacher educators thought that teacher quality correlates with academic ability, they would have admitted my niece and many of her peers with superior school performance. Indeed, the University of Helsinki could easily pick the best and the brightest of the huge pool of applicants each year, and have all of their new trainee teachers with admirable grades.

“But they don’t do this because they know that teaching potential is hidden more evenly across the range of different people. Young athletes, musicians and youth leaders, for example, often have the emerging characteristics of great teachers without having the best academic record. What Finland shows is that rather than get “best and the brightest” into teaching, it is better to design initial teacher education in a way that will get the best from young people who have natural passion to teach for life.

“The teaching profession has become a fashionable topic among education reformers around the world. In England, policy-makers from David Cameron down have argued that the way to improve education is to attract smarter people to be teachers. International organisations such as the OECD and McKinsey & Company, Sir Michael Barber for Pearson, and in the US, Joel Klein, former New York education chancellor now working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, have all claimed that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. These are myths and should be kept away from evidence-informed education policies and reforms.

“A good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers. Successful education systems are more concerned about finding the right people to become career-long teachers. Oh, and what happened to my niece? She applied again and succeeded. She graduated recently and will be a teacher for life, like most of her university classmates.”

 

International test scores have been used by reformers like Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee as a fear tactic. During the 2016 presidential campaign, you will surely hear much wailing and gnashing of the teeth about how our scores on international tests are undermining our global competitiveness and economic growth.

 

Horsefeathers!

 

Here is a post that I wrote in 2013; I updated it. It explains why those international test scores don’t matter, except to tell us that if we really wanted to raise them, we would reduce poverty. Let me say that again: if we reduced poverty, we would have higher scores on international tests.

 

“The news reports say that the test scores of American students on the latest PISA test are “stagnant,” “lagging,” “flat,” etc.

 

The U.S. Department of Education would have us believe–yet again–that we are in an unprecedented crisis and that we must double down on the test-and-punish strategies of the past dozen years.

 

The myth persists that once our nation led the world on international tests, but we have fallen from that exalted position in recent years.

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

Here is the background history that you need to know to interpret the PISA score release, as well as Secretary Duncan’s calculated effort to whip up national hysteria about our standing in the international league tables.

 

The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

 

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile. And yet during this same period, we grew to be one of the most powerful economies in the world. How could that be?

 

International testing began in the mid-1960s with a test of mathematics. The First International Mathematics Study tested 13-year-olds and high-school seniors in 12 nations. American 13-year-olds scored significantly lower than students in nine other countries and ahead of students in only one. On a test given only to students currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students scored last, behind those in the 11 other nations. On a test given to seniors not currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students again scored last.

 

The First International Science Study was given in the late 1960s and early 1970s to 10-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and seniors. The 10-year-olds did well, scoring behind only the Japanese; the 14-year-olds were about average. Among students in the senior year of high school, Americans scored last of eleven school systems.

 

In the Second International Mathematics Study (1981-82), students in 15 systems were tested. The students were 13-year-olds and seniors. The younger group of U.S. students placed at or near the median on most tests. The American seniors placed at or near the bottom on almost every test. The “average Japanese students achieved higher than the top 5% of the U.S. students in college preparatory mathematics” and “the algebra achievement of our most able students (the top 1%) was lower than that of the top 1% of any other country.” (The quote is from Curtis C. McKnight and others, The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. Mathematics from an International Perspective, pp. 17, 26-27). I summarized the international assessments from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s in a book called National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (Brookings, 1995).

 

The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.

 

Does it matter?

 

In my last book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964. He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth–the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.” He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions. And when it came to creativity, the U.S. “clobbered the world,” with more patents per million people than any other nation.

 

Baker wrote that a certain level of educational achievement may be “a platform for launching national success, but once that platform is reached, other factors become more important than further gains in test scores. Indeed, once the platform is reached, it may be bad policy to pursue further gains in test scores because focusing on the scores diverts attention, effort, and resources away from other factors that are more important determinants of national success.” What has mattered most for the economic, cultural, and technological success of the U.S., he says, is a certain “spirit,” which he defines as “ambition, inquisitiveness, independence, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores.”

 

Baker’s conclusion was that “standings in the league tables of international tests are worthless.”

 

I agree with Baker. The more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer.

 

Thirty-two years ago, a federal report called “A Nation at Risk” warned that we were in desperate trouble because of the poor academic performance of our students. The report was written by a distinguished commission, appointed by the Secretary of Education. The commission pointed to those dreadful international test scores and complained that “on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times.” With such terrible outcomes, the commission said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Yet we are still here, apparently the world’s most dominant economy. We still are a “Nation and a people.” What were they thinking? Go figure.

 

Despite having been proved wrong for the past half century, the Bad News Industry is in full cry, armed with the PISA scores, expressing alarm, fright, fear, and warnings of imminent economic decline and collapse.

 

Never do they explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive workforce.

 

From my vantage point as a historian, here is my takeaway from the PISA scores:

 

Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the past thirteen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.

 

Lesson 2: The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted “Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both.

 

Lesson 3: Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty–and the 51% who live in low-income families– would improve their academic performance. If we had less poverty, we would have higher test scores.

 

Lesson 4: We measure only what can be measured. We measure whether students can pick the right answer to a test question. But what we cannot measure matters more. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in education, we will not only NOT get higher scores (the Asian nations are so much better at this than we are), but we will crush the very qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.

 

The fact is that during the past 13 years of high-stakes testing, American scores on the PISA exam have not budged at all. If anything, they have slipped a few points. Test and punish failed! No Child Left Behind failed! Race to the Top failed! Who shall we hold accountable? George W. Bush? His advisor Sandy Kress? Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings? Barack Obama? Arne Duncan? Congress? They forced states and districts to spend billions of dollars on testing, and all of this testing didn’t move the needle on the PISA tests. What if those billions had been spent instead to reduce class sizes? To provide health clinics for schools in poor communities? To create jobs? We need a new approach, and sadly, our policymakers continue to push the same failed ideas. The fact is that we have intolerably high levels of child poverty, and children who are poor register the lowest test scores. There is a simple but obvious formula: Reducing poverty will lift test scores.

 

Higher test scores should not be our national goal. Healthy, imaginative, curious children should be. Rather than focusing on test scores, I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people, on its character, persistence, ambition, hard work, and big dreams, none of which are ever measured or can be measured by standardized tests like PISA.

Why do we refuse to learn from successful nations? The top ten high-performing nations do not test every child every year.

 

Why aren’t we willing to learn from educational disasters in other nations? Take Chile, for example.

 

In this post, two scholars–Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones–explain what happened in Chile when national leaders imposed the free-market ideas of two libertarian economists, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

 

Inspired by the ideas of such neoliberal economists as Hayek and Friedman, the “Chilean experiment” was meant to prove that education can achieve its highest quality when its administration is handed over mainly to the private sector and, therefore, to the forces of the market.

 

 

How did they do this?

 

 

Basically by creating charter schools with a voucher system and a number of mechanisms for ensuring both the competition among them and the profitability of their business. In this scenario, the state has a subsidiary but still important role, namely, to introduce national standards and assess schools by virtue of them (in such a way that national rankings can be produced).

 

 

This accountability job, along with the provision of funding, is almost everything that was left to the Chilean state regarding education, in the hope that competition, marketing, and the like would lead the country to develop the best possible educational system.

 

 

So what happened? Here are some facts after about three decades of the “Chilean experiment” that, chillingly, has also been called the “Chilean Miracle” like the more recent U.S. “New Orleans Miracle.”

 

 

First, there is no clear evidence that students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests, the preferred measurement used to assess schools within this scenario of the free market.

 
Second, there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased. Chile is now a far more unequal society than it was before the privatization of education – and there is a clear correlation between family income and student achievement according to standardized testing and similar measures.

 
Third, studies have shown that schools serving the more underprivileged students have greater difficulties not only for responding competitively but also for innovating and improving school attractiveness in a way to acquire students and therefore funding.

 
Fourth, many schools are now investing more in marketing strategies than in actually improving their services.

 
Fifth, the accountability culture required by the market has yielded a teach-to-the-test schema that is progressively neglecting the variety and richness of more integral educational practices.

 
Sixth, some researchers believe that all this has negatively affected teachers’ professional autonomy, which in turn has triggered feelings of demoralization, anxiety, and in the end poor teaching practices inside schools and an unattractive profession from the outside.

 
Seventh, a general sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has arisen not only among school communities but actually in the great majority of the population. Indeed, the ‘Penguins Revolution’ – a secondary students’ revolt driven by complaints about the quality and equity of Chilean education – led to the most massive social protest movement in the country during the last 20 years….

 

The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.

 
It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.

 
Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results.

 

Why are we allowing philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and the U.S. Department of Education to force us to follow the same path as Chile? Are we powerless? No. Show your displeasure by opting out, speaking out, contacting your elected representatives. Organize demonstrations and protests. Make them notice you. Stop them.

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