I think it is an understatement to say that Michelle Rhee is not known for her humor. Sure, she got a lot of chuckles when she recounted the time she taped her students’ mouths shut with masking tape and the pain (and blood) that resulted when the tape was removed. (I also did plenty that I was not proud of my first year, but never taped any mouths shut.)
Still, though, I generally get a laugh out of any of the videos on the StudentsFirst website, despite the fact that they were not intended to be funny. But I laugh because I know they are full of misleading statistics, half truths, and barely truths.
So I was curious when I learned that they had produced a video that was intended to be funny. Here is the video, which is only 30 seconds, so you should watch it first to get some context.
One quote that is pretty inaccurate is when the announcer says “It appears that the once proud U.S. program has been relying too much on its reputation. I’d say they’re completely unprepared.” They are referring to the apparent ‘crisis’ that on the 2009 international PISA tests, the U.S. 15 year olds ranked 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 countries. The “once proud U.S. program” comment implies that there was a time when the U.S. led the word on these international exams. Actually, we never have done well on these. In the 1964 FIMS test, we were 11th out of 12. These tests are not predictors of future economic strength, obviously since our students from 1964 have helped make the U.S. economy very strong.
It is also unfair to compare our scores to the scores of the other countries since we have 22% of our students in poverty compared to single digits in most of the top countries. In an interesting analysis here we see that if we compare our schools with countries that have similar poverty levels, we would be at the top of the world in every category.
But to take this Olympics analogy further, the United States has the highest obesity rate in the developed world. Even so, we still are very competitive in the Olympics. Yet, we still got the most medals (second most gold medals) in the 2008 summer games. So just because we have a higher percentage of students doing poorly on the PISA does not mean that we have lost our competitive edge.
One other point about the Olympic analogy is that it assumes that these two ‘events’ math and science, are the two most important ones. Surely there are some events in the summer Olympics that the U.S. does not dominate. But we do quite well in the ‘important’ ones like the swimming and the gymnastics. Likewise, U.S. students dominate in the ‘important’ events throughout our history, like having creativity and going on to win Nobel Prizes.
So I did not find this video amusing, except for the irony that they know about as much about comedy as they do about practical education reform.