"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Little Good News

To hear the education reformers talk you'd think we are churning out a generation of expensive student clunkers. Bill Gates says our student performance is flat and our percentage of college graduates compared to other countries is decreasing. The President says we rank 24th (out of 30 countries) in math and 17th in science. Expensive programs haven't worked and we still have an achievement gap.

So I thought I'd share a little good news with you. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test that everyone likes to use to compare our students to those in other countries does show America's average scores rank 24th and 17th respectively. But looking at average scores for comparison is like "ranking runners based on average shoe size or evaluating the high school football team on the basis of how fast the average senior can run the 40-yard dash."- Gerald Bracey. A more meaningful statistic to pull from the PISA tests is America's ranking when it comes to top scorers.  The average student is going to work for someone else.  The top scorer is going to innovate, take risks and create jobs.  Isn't that the person we should be focusing on if the goal of education is to create the people who will save our economy?

So guess where America falls in terms of top scorers on the PISA.  We only have 25% of the total number top scoring students. Countries like Japan, Korea and Finland, which we always seem to be pointing to as the ones we should be emulating, scored 13%, 5%, and 1% respectively. The numbers given by PISA state that only 1.5% of American students scored at the highest level compared to top performing New Zealand (4%) and second place Finland (3.9%.) But it must be remembered that America has far more students taking this test than those countries.  This means that our 1.5% is something like 70,000 kids,  compared to about 2,000 for New Zealand and Sweden. Japan was second with about 33,000 top performers.

What is the economic impact of that many well educated top performers?  Japan has always performed well on these tests but that didn't stop her economy from tanking in the 1990's. Richard Rothstein believes, "The threats to a dynamic 21st century economy are likely to come from a failure of macroeconomic policy, regulation of speculation, and investment in education, not from inefficiency in the investment we already make."

Gates' claims have been disproved by the test centers he sites for his statistics. Our graduation rates have actually doubled over the last four years with the greatest gains seen in the minority community. Ireland has a higher college graduation rate, but that hasn't worked out so great for her economy.

Our politicians would do well to keep these statistics in mind when they are speaking (down) to us about the deplorable state of education in this country. We do have enough well educated people in this country who recognize their manipulation of the numbers. Certainly we have our challenges, but American education is not on the edge of the cliff of collapse.

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