In case you didn't know, we're raising a generation of kids that aren't as sharp as their peers around the world.
That's the story according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2009 the group gave a set of standardized tests that weigh reading comprehension, mathematics, and science to half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries.
The U.S. is falling behind the rest of the developed nations in terms of literacy and math and science knowledge. Check out the bottom of this blog for a nice summary of where U.S. students stand when compared to their peers elsewhere.
This is not a new story, but it does give the government leaders a chance to grab the microphone and yell for additional educational reform. Those calls tend to be a little over the top. However, any conversation about improving overall educational performance in any nation is a good thing.
And it's not just the U.S. that's concerned about the PISA results. Everyone is concerned, and the responses tend to be just as absurd in other countries. Britain's schools minister, Nick Gibb, said the proliferation of text messaging and social networks is one possible culprit of British teens performing poorly on the standardized tests. Why not just blame Jim Belushi for all of the world's educational shortcomings and move on to the next problem? It's just as effective as blaming modern technology.
Look for all the culprits you want for poor test scores, but the answer resides in each of the homes of the test-takers. Their parents simply don't support educational achievement as they should.
The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association economist Chris Kuehl gave his take on the scores in a recent e-mail newsletter: "The single biggest factor for success was the family, however. In all the top 10 countries there is no higher priority than education for one's children, and parents are consistently engaged and at a high level. They demand performance from their children and make everything else secondary—especially working. Very few Asian students have jobs while attending school—their job is school."
My wife is a high school math teacher in an upper middle-class school district in northern Illinois, and she can relate to Kuehl's viewpoint. Kids can't come in early in the mornings for additional help because they've been up late working. She never hears from parents until the very end of the semester when they need an explanation as to how failure to turn in homework assignments can lead to a D average. These kids have the wrong priorities, and they didn't pick them up from watching Nickelodeon.
I think the U.S. does a pretty good job of opening its public educational institutions to all, even those who don't speak English as their first language. Yes, some of those Spanish speakers likely took that English-based PISA test. Also let's not forget how many school systems are "mainstreaming" children with physical and learning disabilities into the general population so that those children share classroom space with their able-bodied peers. These are noble educational commitments that are worthy pursuing, but likely aren't mirrored in other societies.
Yep, the U.S. doesn't get many compliments. It seems that China is grabbing all the headlines. Forgive me if I'm less than impressed. China likely tested those who test the best.
I like living in a society where I can choose to improve rather than be coerced by the state. Discussing U.S. students' shortfalls and the need to improve those scores is the first step in providing the necessary motivation to push students toward greater success.