I'm infuriated by a CNN opinion piece, in which a US politician pontificates about his pet educational theory.
... assessments of American 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading, math and science rank low among the 34 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which performed the study.
America's performance reveals an "average" showing, with dangerous disparities: The 113-point gap in math literacy between the United States and No. 1 spot-holder Shanghai-China is the equivalent of more than two school years of schooling, a statistic sure to ruffle America's economically competitive feathers.
There's more to the PISA results, however, than mere number or rank. The real lesson is less about economic competitiveness and more about a country's commitment to an equity-centered education.
. . .
The evidence presented by PISA is compelling. The commitment by the top-ranking countries to serve each child's needs translated not only into a fair and accessible education system, but one that clearly prepares its citizens with competitive 21st century knowledge and skills. Given equal educational opportunities to learn and achieve -- regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic level -- students in these top-performing countries were able to overcome barriers to achievement and excel at much higher rates.
We must do the same here in America. PISA measures of educational equity showed that impoverished and racially isolated schools in the United States simply did not measure up to essential conditions of equity.
Children attending such schools did not receive equal financing, equal access to qualified teachers, or adequate instructional resources. In fact, of the 34 OCED nations, America is one of only four countries that gives the advantage of access to more teachers to higher-income schools.
These facets of inequity in America's public schools have robbed students of their right to an equal, quality education. As a result, there is a disparity in academic performance that falls along economic and racial lines. For too many students in America, education is not the great equalizer, as it is purported to be.
These lessons regarding equity, provided by PISA's top performers, reflect a paradigm shift, not unlike the one I called for in the National Commission on Equity and Excellence, to be launched by the U.S. Department of Education in January 2011. Creating equity, and thus excellence, in our education system requires a plan of action that challenges our perception of who is capable of achieving at high levels, evaluates the individual needs of the students and their schools, and responds with strategic investment that ensures every child in America has access to qualified teachers, rigorous curriculum, tools and resources to meet high expectations, and more.
The takeaway is this: Prioritize equity in education. Our students deserve it. Our nation needs it. Our future depends on it.
There's more at the link - not that it's worth reading. It's just more of the same politically correct blathering.
The author couldn't possibly be more wrong if he tried! The problem with American high school education can be summed up in a few very simple points:
- Too many 'academic' credits are given for programs of no academic value whatsoever, such as drivers education, religion, home economics, etc. Such courses have their place, but not at the expense of core academic subjects.
- Too few core academic subjects are taught at a sufficiently demanding, challenging level. I've known Grade 8 students who had never memorized their multiplication tables. Dammit, these are fundamental to any honest grasp of mathematics, and should be instinctive! I'd learned them by Grade 3! What are schools doing if they aren't imparting the basics?
- There's too much political correctness and too little emphasis on working hard. Great stress is placed on everybody being 'equal', when that's fundamentally and obviously false to begin with. People are not equal - not in skills, not in innate ability, not in potential. In any given field, some will always be more able, more gifted, than others. If one doesn't identify such people and encourage them to develop their skills, one condemns them to the mediocrity of the average. The results are all too visible in our society.
- Too many education dollars are spent on non-educational priorities. Infrastructure, bloated salaries, buildings, political correctness, etc. - they all take priority over classroom needs. The Federal Government's Department of Education has the stated mission 'to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access'. To achieve this, the Federal Government will spend a total of about $157 billion in the 2010 fiscal year . . . and achieve no better than the mediocre results outlined above.
- Too many school programs, and too many teachers, are oriented towards a political and social agenda rather than real education. All need to be discontinued, at once if not sooner.
The reason foreign students so consistently do better is that their parents demand it of them; their schools teach them accordingly; and they're expected to work very hard and produce results, with serious consequences if they don't. Apply the same methods in the USA, and the problem will be solved.
Simple, isn't it?
Heaven preserve us from damnfool politicians and educators with an agenda!
EDITED TO ADD: Suzy, writing at Shining Pearls Of Something, has linked to this article in her own screed about the problems of the US education system. She has some interesting ideas. Go read.