The Challenge for Education in 2014

It was in late 2013 that the world received the most recent international comparisons in educational performance in math, reading and science.  Results came from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  The results were discouraging for both students and educators in North America, and particularly so for those in the United States and Mexico.  Despite the discouraging PISA results, there is significant pressure to stop or slow the implementation of the common core standards in the U.S.

Here are the poor results on the U.S. PISA scores:

  • Fully more than a quarter of U. S. students were below minimal proficiency in math.
  • Almost a fifth of U. S. students scored below minimal proficiency in science, and 17% were below minimal proficiency in reading.
  • The proportion of U.S. students who scored well was also discouraging; only 9% of 15 year olds scored at a level 5 in math proficiency; even fewer were at this level of proficiency in science (7%), and 8% were at this level in reading.

Mexico also saw poor performance results withmore than half of its 15 year olds scoring below minimal proficiency in math. Forty-seven percent were similarly below minimal proficiency in science, but Mexican students scored slightly better than their U.S. neighbors in reading with 86% of 15 year olds scoring above minimal proficiency and 16% below.  Rounding out North America was Canada where students performed somewhat better.  Eighty-six percent of Canadian 15 year olds scored above minimal math proficiency; almost 90% were above minimal proficiency in science, and 97% were above minimal proficiency in reading.

Results in the U.S. and Mexico come along with continued opposition to reform in education.  In Mexico it has come from teachers’ unions with a streak of protectionism for members.  In the U.S. it has come from a variety of sources, but most recently, it has come from two directions.  From the political right, opposition to common core standards has come in terms of fear of loss of district or state’s rights to set education standards – even though current standards fail to prepare educated citizens who are prepared for work or higher education.  Opposition to reform is also coming from the left where there is criticism around  too speedy implementation and criticism of the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers and schools.

Both the right and the left are misguided when it comes to education reform needs.  Implementation of the common core standards does not remove local control over how teachers teach.  Moreover, implementation of common core is useless without measurement of outcomes.  Higher standards of U.S. education are in our interest as a country – just as they are in the interest of Mexico or Canada.  As a long-time educator, I have observed poorly prepared college freshmen for decades who struggle to meet the minimum requirements.  Like all U.S. citizens, I deal with service employees who cannot give change nor complete basic alphabetization of products such as DVDs.

The greatest challenge in 2014 for education will be rooted in political opposition to reform. Education reform must work to avoid pressure from both the right and the left. Both sides are working to sidetrack us from educational reform by masking fear of the federal government in the guise of seemingly legitimate concerns about local control or by masking protectionism of teachers’ unions with seemingly legitimate concerns about standardized testing or the speed of implementation of reform.

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