Last January, Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy released a report on international test scores, arguing that American students perform better than is generally believes. Since many people are deeply invested in the conventional claim that American students lag the world on international tests, their report led to a flurry of controversy. This post by Rothstein and Carnoy responds to Tucker’s criticism of their report.

On the other hand, Marc Tucker wrote an excellent article on his blog in which he made some important points.

First, he reviewed Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessman’s book Endangering Prosperity. He agrees with them that American performance on international tests is terrible, even among our best students. But he disagrees with their solutions: reliance on market forces via charters and vouchers, smashing teachers’ unions, test-based evaluation of teachers. He sees no evidence that these strategies have worked anywhere in the world.

Tucker writes:

My objection to these strategies has nothing to do with ideology. It is pragmatic. First, after years of implementation, as I have written elsewhere, there is still no evidence that market solutions will produce results superior to the results that we have been getting, certainly not the kind of results we would have to have to overcome the gigantic deficiencies that Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann document in this book. The authors are correct in saying that teacher quality is the most important factor in improving the performance of our schools, but, as far as I know, they can point to no country in the world that has used the strategies they advocate to get decisive improvements in teacher quality. There is, in short, no evidence that the strategies they want the United States to bet on will work.

He points to Shanghai, visited recently by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, as a high-performing nation that uses none of these strategies. What works in Shanghai?

Shanghai did not get to where it is by creating charter schools or issuing vouchers. It did not get there by sorting out teachers by the scores their students get on standardized tests and then weeding out the worst. They have been more successful than any other country in the world at developing the teachers they already have, focusing relentlessly on teacher training, embracing the system and its teachers, rather than driving the best away with punitive accountability systems.

I find this an admirable statement.

My only disagreement with the debate about our international performance is that I am not persuaded that test scores on TIMSS or PISA predict what will happen to our economy 10 or 20 or 30 years from now. I recall that in 1983 “A Nation at Risk” said we were doomed because of our international test scores. Didn’t happen. The international tests show which nations have students who get the most right answers on multiple-choice tests. I fail to understand why that is a leading economic indicator. The Chinese-American scholar Yong Zhao has argued that the test-based education systems are least likely to promote creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I am inclined to agree with him.