Back in 2009, when Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competition, he said we as a nation would literally be “racing to the top” of international competition by adopting his favored ideas: expanding charter schools, evaluating teachers to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, “turning around” low-scoring schools by radical measures such as closing them, creating state and national data storehouses to track students, and adopting “college and career-ready standards” (aka, the Common Core). Almost every state fell in line, because they had to do what Arne wanted in order to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion.
But the report cards have not been kind to these “reforms.” When the National Assessment of Education Progress issued its regular report in 2015, test scores were flat or declining in most states.
Now the latest international test scores are out, and the U.S. has made no gains. We are not racing to the top. We are standing still. Why? Because Race to the Top did not address the root causes of academic failure: poverty and racial segregation. Charter schools have produced marginal gains at best, with some far worse than public schools. Evaluating teachers by test scores has been an abject failure, criticized by the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, including the American Statistical Association, which is not an arm of reformer-dreaded teachers’ unions or the “status quo.”
Here is today’s report from politico.com:
PISA RESULTS: BAD NEWS IN MATH: American 15-year-olds are getting worse at applying their math skills in the real world, when compared to their international peers. The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment results are out and they show a drop in “mathematics literacy” scores for U.S. students since 2012 and 2009. “Of particular concern is that we also have a higher percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels … and a lower percentage of top math performers” compared to the international average, said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released the results. The disappointing numbers come after results on another international study – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study – recently showed gains made by U.S. fourth and eighth graders in math since 1995.
– U.S. science and reading literacy scores weren’t much different from previous years. Boys outperformed girls in science and math, while girls outperformed boys in reading. Scores for Massachusetts, North Carolina and Puerto Rico were broken out for international benchmarking purposes, and revealed that Massachusetts students, on average, are outperforming students in the U.S. and worldwide in all three subjects. North Carolina students were comparable with U.S. average scores and Puerto Rican students fared worse. PISA measures the performance of 15-year-olds every three years in three subjects across dozens of education systems worldwide. Check out the results here .
– Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is in Massachusetts today to hail the state’s success with PISA – while noting that the nation as a whole is “losing ground.” According to prepared remarks, King will say that it’s “a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world. Students in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Minnesota aren’t just vying for great jobs along with their neighbors or across state lines, they must be competitive with peers in Finland, Germany, and Japan.” King will say that Massachusetts embodies the importance of perseverance. “The PISA results announced today for Massachusetts didn’t happen instantly or by accident,” he’ll say. “It has taken years of people showing courage – principals, teachers, parents, students, and state and district leaders. It has taken years of overcoming challenges. It has taken years to make real and meaningful change happen. And it will take time to see the work we are continuing to do today truly pay off for students.” More on King’s visit.
– Other noteworthy highlights: U.S. students value a career in science and have high expectations of having a science career, but they’re falling short when it comes to skills. Countries like Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan are also seeing better student outcomes than the U.S., while investing fewer hours in actual teaching – giving teachers more time for professional development and advancing their careers.
As I have often written before, the international test scores do not predict the future of our economy or anything else. Scores on standardized tests measure family income and income inequality. If you want to know more, read my chapter in “Reign of Error” on international tests and what they mean and do not mea.