Arthur Camins is director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

He left the following comment about the PISA results:

The release of NAEP, TIMSS and PISA scores always produces debate. How do we compare with others (and on what)? Among us, who has improve and who has not? Are we improving and, if so, are we improving fast enough?

You and others have cogently argued that quickly leaping to favored policy implications usually lacks much evidence and is often misleading.

Arguments in a democracy are natural and could be healthy, but I worry we are not making much progress when it comes to current education policy. Maybe a dose of engineering design thinking can help.

An essential step in such thinking is defining and delimiting the problems. The biggest problem with education is the US is not test scores. Rather, three central problems plague public education the United States. The most dramatic is inequity. There are vast inequities in educational resources and in the conditions of students’ lives, resulting in persistent race- and class-based disparities in educational outcomes.

Second, we are far too focused on a narrow range of outcomes — reading and math test scores — and not enough on a broader range of subject matter or essential domains, such as critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills. Third, we gravitate toward partial quick solutions, rather than thinking systemically and having the patience allow strategies time to develop, take hold and be refined.

Next, we need to consider both values and technical constraints for ideal solutions. For example, we need to ask what mix of collaborative and competitive strategies align with our values and research on systems that have been successful in sustaining significant educational improvement.
In addition, since ideal solutions always prove better in theory than in practice, we need to plan for optimization– repeated cycles of testing, redesign and retesting.

Finally, to make progress we need mobilize the necessary political will. To do so, we need to hear more about common sense, high-leverage solutions– framed as messages that respect people’s intelligence and tap into their values, aspirations and sense of fairness.

I made several suggestions about these messages last week on the Washington Post’s education blog, The Answer Sheet:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/11/30/how-thinking-like-an-engineer-can-help-school-reform/