K–12: Are Low Test Scores a Problem?

American results in PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, aren't good.  But education experts responded to the latest bad news with well practiced shrugs.  What, us worry?

The Education Writers Association had this headline: "No easy answers on PISA: US scores flat for reading, math and science."

That's a grim trifecta that people in the Third World might be comfortable with.  But everyone in this world should be ashamed.  However, the education writers ignored their own headline and jumped to this summary:

With the results of a global exam showing flat scores for American 15-year-olds in reading, math and science, education journalists were busy this week parsing the data, providing context, and explaining why comparisons among countries' results can be a tricky business.

These journalists should be on top of a mountain screaming for Americans to wake up.  Instead, this professional organization seems to feel that these are meaningful responses: parsing data, providing context, and explaining why comparisons can be tricky.  Lame.

The New York Times continued the yawn-fest.  The Times' story launches this way:

"An international exam shows that American 15-year-olds are stagnant in reading and math even though the country has spent billions to close gaps with the rest of the world."  Hmm.  Isn't that a problem?

The Times notes: "The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe."  Since 2000?  That's when all that Common Core stuff appeared.  Apparently, it was a big flop.

"The disappointing results from the exam ... follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers."  That is, only one third of American kids can truly read.  One third.

Could it be any worse?  But the New York Times does not see anything alarming.  This should be a Saturday Night Live skit.  All the comics play Mr. Oblivious.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that we are being kicked around by a large foreign country, but it's probably all a statistical misunderstanding.  Nothing to see here: "Mainland China was the big winner in the newly released scores on the Program for International Student Assessment, which tests 15-year-old students in dozens of countries in math, reading and science every three years.  With 600,000 students from 79 countries and school systems taking the exam in 2018, four provinces in China — which for PISA constitutes mainland China — were collectively ranked No. 1 in all three subjects.  But there is good reason to view the scores from mainland China with skepticism ..."

Slate, a liberal website, did allow a few annoying facts to enter the conversation

Low-performing students have been the focus of decades of bipartisan education reform efforts, costing many billions of dollars, that have resulted in a string of national programs — No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core State Standards, the Every Student Succeeds Act — but uneven results.

That is, nothing actually works.

While the results are, once again, alarming, education experts warn there are some inherent pitfalls in the administration of the exam — and its results.  Students are not penalized for performing poorly and never see their results, and students in the United States tend to be less motivated to perform well on it compared with teens in other countries[.]

Note a pattern.  The patient may be sick or dying, but don't worry.

Education Dive, an ed site, reported:

The U.S., however, was not alone in showing neither improvement nor a decline in scores.  Performance was flat in most of the participating countries, with only four education systems showing growth in reading, 13 in math and five in science.

Though the top-performing U.S. students in reading rank third in the world ... the scores of struggling readers are sliding.  "It's a pattern we've seen in NAEP, and now we're seeing it here," an official said.  "We're struggling in math in comparison to our competitors around the world.  This is a pattern we're not surprised by.

Ho, hum.

As the mainstream media pretended there's nothing of interest in PISA news, Psychology Today actually reported the problems:

Here is what US parents, teachers, corporate leaders, legislators, and anyone else who cares about education and the future of our country must know.  Our US scores show that our education system is flatlining.  We are not keeping up with our global counterparts, though the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent. We performed slightly above the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] average in reading and science (our scores have remained unchanged in almost two decades while our counterparts' scores rose) but performed well below average in mathematics.

One bizarre aspect of all this reporting: no mention of money.  We outspend almost everybody and still get mediocre results.  You might think the media would demand better.  If all the results were calculated in terms of money spent, the U.S. might be near the bottom of every list.

Strangest of all, none of this analysis shows interest in why our schools do such a bad job.  Maybe complicit media do know, but they want to keep the public in the dark for another few years. 

Our Education Establishment has a well known knack for picking bad instructional methods.  We can forgive a few mistakes.  But if all they ever pick is bad methods, maybe that's what they prefer.  Charlotte Iserbyt summed up her conclusions in the famous title: "The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America."  The key word is deliberate.

The technique was simple.  Get rid of all the traditional stuff that works; replace it with dysfunctional concoctions that do not work.  Flatlining is guaranteed.

Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is Saving K–12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?  (a good gift for smart friends).  He deconstructs educational theories and methods at Improve-Education.org.

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