In one of Obama’s recent speeches, he said that we were at a new ‘Sputnik Moment’ since the U.S. ranked 25 out of 34 countries in Math on a recent international comparison called the PISA.
This probably scared a lot of people since it implied two things: 1) that we had once been number 1 on such tests and 2) that faring poorly on those tests correlates with economic doom.
This is what politicians do. By only telling part of the story they get support for their own agendas. In this case the agenda seems to be the new wave of educational reform where students are given more choice so they can go to charter schools.
A little research shows that the United States has NEVER fared well on these sorts of exams going back to the first test like this (The FIMS) given in 1964. Back then twelve countries participated and we were 11th out of 12. The new PISA test has us 25th out of 34 which actually puts us closer to the middle than before. Among those original 12 countries from the 1964 FIMS, though, we are still at 11th.
Now, the students who took the test in 1964 did pretty well for themselves, economically speaking, so it’s not clear that doing well on that kind of exam actually predicts anything.
Now, I’m not saying that the education system is perfect now or that it was perfect in 1964. There is a lot we can do to improve it. For example, I have no idea why as a teacher I’m not able to quickly find on the internet a bunch of good lessons that I could teach on any given topic. That would be a worthwhile investment, since it would be investing in something that SUPPORTS teachers and helps them be more efficient and to not always ‘reinvent the wheel.’
Instead the new thing is to blame teachers. To threaten their jobs and think that whatever might be lost in morale will be gained back by these lazy teachers getting off their butts.