Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Failing Schools" Fallacy

In the past few months, Americans have often heard it stated as a fact that our public schools are failing. Certainly, we will never be satisfied until our education system is perfect and it will never be perfect because it is comprised of imperfect people. But what is the basis for the claim that our public schools are failing?

The most often cited statistic is the performance of American students on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) evaluations that is coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Much of PISA's methodology follows the example of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS, started in 1995), which in turn was much influenced by the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The reading component of PISA is inspired by the IEA's Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). In 2009, the United States ranked 30th in Science, 23rd in Math and 17th in Reading on these assessments.

Diane Ravitch recently wrote an article putting these ranking in historical context. Here is a portion of that article:

"President Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, reacted with alarm to the results of the latest international assessment of student performance in December. Duncan said they were a “wake-up call” to the nation.
To counter what it thinks is educational decline, the Obama administration launched a program called “Race to the Top,” which promotes more privately managed schools, evaluates teachers based on student test scores, encourages merit pay, and includes a variety of other unproven strategies intended to boost test scores.
But are our public schools really in free-fall? It is a fact that American students recently scored in the middle among 65 nations that participated in tests of reading, mathematics and science.
What the president doesn’t seem to know is that our students have taken part in these international assessments since the 1960s, and we have typically been in the bottom quartile.
When the first international math test was administered to students in eighth grade and 12th grade in 1964, our eighth-graders came in next to last and our seniors were dead last. In the first international test of science in the early 1970s, our seniors scored last. In additional tests of mathematics and science in the 1980s and ’90s, American students seldom surpassed the international average."

Continue Reading the Full Article:
'Failing Schools' Fallacy