9 de dezembro de 2016

Three Thoughts on the Ugly New PISA Results – by Frederick Hess


Posted: 08 Dec 2016 09:21 PM PST
On Tuesday, the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results were released. The news wasn’t good. PISA is administered every three years to a sample of 15-year-olds in education systems across the globe (73 nations, states, and systems participated in 2015). The tests gauge performance in math, reading, and science. What do the results show?
ednext-blog-dec16-hess-pisaCompared to the international averages, U.S. performance was middling in science, poor in math, and above-average in reading. U.S. math performance dropped precipitously since 2012, after dropping noticeably from 2009 to 2012. Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), drily noted that, compared to the international average, “we also have a higher percentage of students who score in the lowest performance levels … and a lower percentage of top math performers.” U.S. performance in reading and science has also declined (slightly but steadily) since 2009, by three points in reading and six points in science.
You can peruse the NCES report for yourself here, if so inclined. I don’t want to belabor things, so I’ll just offer three reflections.
One, I’m generally not a fan of using test results to assess the validity of a presidential administration’s educational efforts. Washington shenanigans are supposed to be peripheral to what happens in America’s schools; and, thankfully, that’s mostly the case. It’s hard to forget, however, that the Obama administration was cherry-picking test results to justify its machinations—back when it could find results to pick. In 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pointed to modest gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as evidence that the Common Core was working. (The argument got tendentious, especially when Duncan started selectively choosing state-level scores to make his case, but we needn’t rehash that here.) When I published a scathing assessment of the Obama-Duncan legacy in fall 2015, rebuttals mostly asserted that scores had gone up on Obama’s watch. Well, just months after I wrote that piece, the new NAEP results showed unprecedented declines in reading and math. And the new PISA results tell a tale of steady decline on Obama’s watch, following years of improving U.S. performance. I won’t claim that these results demonstrate the flaws in the Obama agenda, but they sure don’t help make its case.
Two, Obama’s spinners have spent a lot of time talking up the steady increase in the U.S. graduation rate. President Obama delivered a widely covered speech this fall to celebrate that the graduation rate had climbed to 83% in 2014-15, up about four points from where it stood in 2010-11. The thing is, if more students are graduating high school even as they are faring worse on reputable assessments, it raises questions about just what those graduation rates mean. After all, diplomas are just pieces of paper—they don’t necessarily mean that students have mastered essential knowledge or skills. If a push to get students to graduate means schools are lowering the bar, turning a blind eye, or finding ways to drag them across the finish line, then those graduation rate boosts aren’t actually a cause for celebration.
Three, I often wish people were a little more reticent about racing to insist that the latest round of test results or graduation rates prove this or that. Much of the fevered discussion of the PISA results suffers from a pretty big flaw—which is that most observers don’t really understand what these international tests measure. That makes it difficult to know what one ought to make of the results. As the Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless has observed, PISA is a test that “assesses whether students can apply what they’ve learned to solve ‘real world’ problems.” In the case of math, Loveless explains, “The PISA math assessment is based on a philosophy known as Real Mathematics Education (RME), championed by the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands. Jan de Lange of the Freudenthal Institute chairs the PISA expert group in mathematics. RME’s constructivist, problem solving orientation is controversial among mathematicians.” Does this mean that one should look askance at the PISA findings? Does it make them more valuable? Reasonable people can disagree, but it’s useful to know what tests are measuring when we’re throwing their numbers around as evidence about educational policy or practice.
Let me be clear— I’m not saying that a given set of test results prove that Obama’s educational efforts have been misguided. I am saying that the Obama administration has been disingenuous when it has tried to use convenient data points to make its case. The reality is that these kinds of national results are so far removed from the regulatory minutiae of federal education policy, and the meaning of these test results can be so opaque, that everyone would be well-served if they spent less time claiming this or that test result or graduation rate proved that a grand federal agenda was the right one.
—Frederick Hess
Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI and an executive editor at Education Next.

OECD/PISA 2015, countries overview

What does the share of top performers and low achievers look like in your country?

Samuel Pessoa: Professor brasileiro é contrário ao que deu certo em Cuba na educação


Caro colega, no creo que el problema esté solamente en el profesor brasilero (o latinoamericano); en ese entonces Cuba formuló una política de Estado que priorizó una educación de calidad para todos. Brasil y tantos otros en esta Región, no lo han hecho. Sin ella, no hay esfuerzos sectoriales que puedan dar cierto.

Jorge Werthein e Martin Carnoy:  Cuba: Mudança Econômica e Reforma Educacional 1955-1974, Brasiliense, S.P., 1984
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Schoolchildren wave Cuban flags as others carry a portrait of Cuba's late President Fidel Castro as the caravan carrying Castro's ashes arrives in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins ORG XMIT: HRB07
Estudantes carregam bandeiras de Cuba e retrato de Fidel

A morte de Fidel Castro é momento oportuno para a avaliação dos impactos dos mais de 50 anos de ditadura no país.
Os que apoiam o regime argumentam que os ganhos sociais mais do que compensam os custos de redução de liberdade.
Sem entrar no complexo debate sobre a possibilidade de negociar ou não a liberdade nesses termos, aqueles que são seduzidos por suas conquistas sociais precisam se lembrar de que Cuba, já no período anterior à revolução, apresentava indicadores sociais muito melhores do que a média da América Latina.
A renda per capita em 1955 era 27% da renda americana quando a média da América Latina (AL) era de 15%; a mortalidade infantil era de 33 por mil nascidos, ante 105 na AL e 26 nos EUA; a expectativa de vida ao nascer era de 64 anos, ante 50 na AL e 69 nos EUA; e a taxa de analfabetismo era de 21%, ante 42% na AL e 1% nos EUA.
Diante do início favorável, as conquistas da revolução empalidecem. Tudo indica que Cuba poderia ter, organizada como economia de mercado com democracia política, trajetória melhor ou igual à da Costa Rica. O custo em consumo não foi pequeno: hoje o consumo per capita de Cuba é 72% do observado em 1955 e aproximadamente 50% do consumo per capita da Costa Rica.
Evidentemente esse custo precisa ser ponderado com a melhor igualdade. O coeficiente de Gini (o índice varia de 0 a 1; quanto maior, mais desigualdade) para Cuba é da ordem de 0,3, ante 0,4 para Costa Rica. O custo de perda de eficiência econômica e de redução de liberdade em Cuba parece ser extremamente elevado para um ganho de 0,1 no índice de Gini.
Uma área em que os ganhos foram muito bons foi a educação. Apesar do início relativamente elevado, havia fortíssima desigualdade na distribuição da escolaridade. O mesmo não pode ser dito dos serviços de saúde, em que a desigualdade no acesso era menor na Cuba pré-revolução.
A revolução cubana conseguiu algo que a sociedade brasileira não tem conseguido: ofertar às crianças que nasceram em ambientes familiares culturalmente pobres o mesmo aprendizado daquelas que nasceram em famílias com melhor background cultural.
O livro de Martin Carnoy, professor da Universidade Stanford, publicado no Brasil em 2007 pela Fundação Lemann, apresenta os principais ingredientes para o sucesso do sistema público cubano.
Efeito colateral de uma sociedade sem mercados, é possível remunerar muito bem o professor em termos relativos, visto que os salários são em média muito baixos e o talento não é devidamente remunerado no mercado de trabalho cubano. Um professor em Cuba ganha um pouco menos do que um médico. Os melhores alunos do secundário escolhem ser professores.
O currículo é pouco extenso e é o mesmo para todas as escolas da ilha. A formação do professor é centrada em técnicas de transmissão de conhecimento ligadas ao currículo padronizado.
O professor é muito supervisionado pelo Estado, não pode faltar e, se o desempenho dos alunos não for bom, poderá perder a posição.
Há poucas interrupções na aula e na maior parte do tempo os alunos trabalham em grupo sob supervisão do professor resolvendo problemas e questões. Não se perde muito tempo copiando coisas do quadro.
Infelizmente, em geral os sindicatos de professores das redes públicas brasileiras apoiam aumentos de salários, mas são contrários a todas as demais iniciativas que deram certo em Cuba. 

Claudia Costin: Nos novos resultados do PISA, por que vamos mal em ciências?


Folha de S.Paulo

Bruno Santos/Folhapress
São Paulo, SP, BRASIL-05-05-2016: Estudantes pré vestibular do cursinho Anglo em sala de aula. (Foto: Bruno Santos/ Folhapress) *** ESPECIAIS *** EXCLUSIVO FOLHA***
Aluno assiste a aula e faz anotações
A cada três anos, a OCDE, organizadora dessa avaliação, foca uma área diferente entre três ênfases possíveis: leitura, matemática e ciências. Normalmente acrescenta questionários para obter dados para melhor analisar os sistemas educacionais. Na edição de 2015, a área priorizada foi ciências, ou, especificamente, letramento científico.
É importante entender o que é letramento científico para a OCDE, ou o que ela considera importante que um aluno de 15 anos saiba em ciências. A resposta é simples: pensar cientificamente, utilizar conceitos em problemas reais, entender como se organizam experimentos ou processos científicos– em outros termos, desenvolver uma mente investigativa, base para todas as ciências.
O Brasil avançou nos últimos anos em assegurar que os jovens dessa idade estejam na escola. Setenta e um por cento dos jovens na faixa dos 15 anos estão matriculados a partir do 7º ano, 15 pontos percentuais a mais que em 2003, numa ampliação impressionante de escolarização.
Isso poderia trazer uma queda na aprendizagem desses jovens, o que não ocorreu. Seria algo a ser celebrado, mas a oitava economia do mundo não pode comemorar um desempenho tão baixo.
Na verdade, não vamos avançar enquanto não investirmos em duas linhas de ação: atrair mais talentos para a profissão de professor e formá-los adequadamente por um lado, e, por outro, rever currículos e pedagogia, de forma a ter condições de ensinar os alunos a pensar cientificamente, não apenas a memorizar fórmulas e conceitos.
Na primeira linha, cabe melhorar os salários dos professores, valorizá-los, para que os melhores alunos de ensino médio desejem cursar pedagogia e licenciaturas. Tornar as faculdades de educação mais profissionalizantes, como são as de engenharia ou medicina e resgatar as didáticas específicas, inclusive a de ciências.
Na segunda, usar no trabalho com a Base Comum Curricular para diminuir tópicos e disciplinas e priorizar a utilização de conceitos das ciências em problemas reais. Gastar tempo ensinando aos alunos a solução colaborativa de problemas (tema enfocado no Pisa 2015) em que se utilizem conhecimentos das ciências.
Há muito o que se fazer e certamente chegamos num ponto em que a inação destruirá nosso futuro. Resta agora começar, com coragem, a enfrentar os desafios de uma escola que não funciona. 


Ensino reprovado


EDITORIAL

09/12/2016 ,Folha de S.Paulo

O Brasil tem feito esforços na área educacional que não se traduzem em melhoria da qualidade do ensino médio e, por consequência, da aprendizagem dos jovens.
A mais recente evidência dessa defasagem foi expressa pelos resultados de 2015 do Pisa, exame aplicado a cada três anos pela OCDE (organização que reúne países desenvolvidos e alguns emergentes), divulgados nesta semana.
O desempenho dos estudantes brasileiros de 15 anos em leitura, ciências e matemática —as três áreas avaliadas— não progrediu. Mais grave ainda, o Brasil ficou estagnado em um patamar de desempenho educacional muito baixo.
Num universo de 70 países avaliados, estamos entre os dez piores em matemática e ciências. Em leitura, na 59ª posição.
O rendimento medíocre ocorreu a despeito de um aumento do gasto por aluno de 6 a 15 anos, que representava 32% da média da OCDE em 2012 e, no ano passado, atingiu 42%.
Há quem argumente que um dos grandes problemas do Brasil ainda é o investimento relativamente baixo por estudante, em comparação ao realizado por países ricos.
No quadro de grave recessão em que o país se encontra, seria ilusório imaginar aportes vultosos em educação e mesmo em outras áreas essenciais, como saúde e infraestrutura. Pode-se avançar muito, todavia, na eficiência dos investimentos.
Uma comparação com o Chile evidencia essa constatação. O país vizinho tem um gasto por aluno muito próximo ao brasileiro (equivalente a 44% da média da OCDE). Seus alunos de 15 anos, no entanto, estão 19 posições à frente dos nossos no ranking de Pisa de ciências.
Outros países latino-americanos, como México, Colômbia e Uruguai, conseguiram fazer seus estudantes avançarem mais que os brasileiros, gastando menos.
A reforma do ensino médio, em tramitação na Câmara dos Deputados, embora encaminhada de maneira discutível, é um passo na direção correta, bem como a Base Nacional Comum Curricular, que deixa claros os objetivos e conhecimentos a serem alcançados a cada etapa.
Falta ainda ao país tomar outras medidas que promovam o aprimoramento dos professores. Além de investir em reciclagem e continuar a valorizar a remuneração (cuja média se elevou, mas ainda não é a ideal), é preciso implementar um sistema de incentivos. Atingir metas de desempenho estabelecidas e avançar no aperfeiçoamento profissional são méritos que devem ser reconhecidos e premiados.

Beyond the Classroom and School: District Technology Integration by larrycuban


Over the years, I have written about differences between complicated and complex (see here). I pointed out the differences in those top-down, command-and-control organizations that launch rockets into space and keep cities safe and those open, loosely-coupled organizations that provide health care, administer criminal justice, and offer public schooling that are vulnerable to their political and social environments,  heavily dependent upon relationships, and individual discretion.
For the past year, I have described best cases of classrooms that I have visited where technology integration was in the background, not the foreground (see herehere, and here). I have also posted descriptions of schools identified as exemplary in integrating technology across all of their classrooms such as the Summit network of charter schools.
But I have not yet profiled districts that have integrated technology on a systematic basis. In Silicon Valley, including most of the Bay area, there are 77 school districts. All have technology plans for their schools. These districts buy lots of hard- and software, wire and WiFi schools, provide classroom carts of laptops and tablets, offer teacher workshops and then cross their fingers that teachers will step up and use what the district has provided for daily lessons.Voluntary participation is the rule which means that great variation exists not only in every single school but across these districts heralded as embracing high-tech.
Only a few districts, however, have gone beyond a plan, buying devices, and crossing their fingers that teachers will use all of the available hardware and software. Only a few districts adopted policies that nudged all teachers in every school to use new technologies, blended learning, and personalized lessons.  Only a few districts have built a systematic infrastructure of broadband and WiFi, incorporated newly-developed software, sponsored professional development, and provided technical assistance to support (and push) teachers to integrate technology into their daily lessons. In Silicon Valley I found two such districts: Mountain View-Los Altos and Milpitas.
In the Mountain View-Los Altos district I profiled two of its schools and described 10 classroom lessons I observed in these schools (see, for example, here and here) . In Milpitas, a dozen miles away, two principals invited me to observe their primary and upper-elementary classrooms and interview teachers. I did observe classes and interview teachers at each school as well as interviewing a district administrator.
Knowing that each level of schooling--classroom, school, and district--contains its unique complexities and knowing that districts are not command-and-control organizations, using a tri-focal lens one can come to appreciate, if not understand, that changing what classroom teachers do, altering how schools operate daily, and improving  district performance  is no easy walk in the park.
Each of these three systems are nested in one another. Each level affects the other as teachers go about doing what is expected in classrooms, school staff wrestle with instruction and curriculum, and both individual teachers and school staffs connect to the district school board, superintendent, and administrators from which policies and resources flow downward. These three levels of schooling are Siamese triplets that are separate and interactive but cannot be severed.
There are so many moving parts in these loosely-coupled system called a district.  So much interaction and overlap in these nested communities nonetheless depend on continuity in student/teacher relationships, principal/staff cooperation, and school board/district administrators working closely together. Sure, there are top-down directives that flow into schools and bottom-up actions that trickle upward in the organization.
Furthermore, there are constant search for resources and support from groups inside and outside the system. Include, then, among the moving parts, the ever-changing political interests that have their own ideas of what is a "good" teacher, what is a "good" school, and a "good" district. Enacting public schooling is political drama with conflict, tears, hurrahs, and disappointment. And that is what makes school reform a complex endeavor. District work is not for the faint-of-heart or those who fail to grasp that complexity across and between three organizational levels.
The fact is that classrooms, schools, and districts are open systems with permeable boundaries that can be easily crossed by outside groups such as single issue advocates, state officials, national lobbies, etc. It is one fact that policymakers, researchers, and parents have to not only grasp but also know it in their actions.  If  educational decision-makers cannot give up their vision of command-and-control organizations and wrap their minds around open, loosely-coupled places established to help students (not customers), these top decision-makers will continue to stumble their way through school reform.
Consider, for example, all the factors and constraints teachers face putting a planned lesson into practice.  In a 50- or 60-minute lesson, teachers make hundreds of decisions, some planned, many unplanned, anchored in the content and skills to be learned, the technologies used, relationships among students and between the teacher and students, and the norms and rituals  within the class (e.g., teacher counting from 10 to 0 to get quiet, rhythmic clapping of teacher and students to get attention, students listening to one another and taking turns).
The deep knowledge teachers have of subject matter, cognitive and social skills, details about their students all come to the surface in the questions teachers ask, how they determine who will be with whom in small group activities, and when--clock watching is an occupational tic with most teachers--to segue from one part of the lesson to another. The inexorable unpredictability of student response to a lesson often calls for instant decision-making, for example, when a student unexpectedly rants or cries; when snow starts falling outside the windows and students get restless. Or an assistant principal enters the room to observe the lesson. Or an incident of bullying during recess that spills into the class, and on and on. Teacher's tacit knowledge of all of the above forms the bedrock of the relationship with students which is the core of their learning both in and out of classrooms.
a1-fig4.png
As one teacher told me "just managing the complexity of teaching a lesson can be overwhelming." Looking at all of the above factors that come into play when a teacher improvises or goes ahead with a planned decision is often what staggers newcomer to teaching and researcher.
So too the complexity deepens when one moves from the classroom as the unit of analysis to the school. Grasping the sheer number of factors that influence a school's  organization, culture and relationships among adults and with students is tough enough. Schools with 10 to 100 classrooms, credentialed and non-credentialed staff, diversity of students, parental involvement, and dozens of other factors come into play. Then consider that one school is multiplied by 1o to 50 to 100 to form a district and how the complexity of each level multiplies when one considers the cross-cutting factors that come into play when the district is the unit of analysis. Each level embedded in the other has a structure, culture, and entwined relationships. Look at the figure below that tries to capture just a fraction of myriad moving parts.
ZI-0JSK-2003-SPR00-IDSI-18-1.jpg
All of this discussion of complexity brings me to the Milpitas Unified School District a system of just over 10,000 students (45 % Asian, 21% Filipino, 21 % Hispanic, 7% white, 3% black) distributed among 14 schools from pre-K to senior high school. Thirty three percent of the students qualify for free and reduced price lunches.  Nearly 800 staff strive to reach the goals that the school board and superintendent seek to achieve (see herehere, and here).
Thus, Milpitas is a system of embedded organizations (e.g., classrooms, schools, and district office) interacting daily with one another often in loosely coupled arrangements. Then consider how the city of Milpitas (over 100,000 residents), Santa Clara County in which the city is located, the state of California, and the federal government also interact in small and large ways with the district. Yes, this is complexity with a capital C.
In the next post, I will describe how one superintendent, Cary Matusoka, spent five years  (2011-2016) trying to move an entire district to redesign the way its teachers taught and students learned through integrating new technologies.
larrycuban | December 9, 2016 

8 de dezembro de 2016

PISA 2015: What America Can Learn About Smart Schools in Other Countries



Every three years, half a million 15-year-olds in 69 countries take a two-hour test designed to gauge their ability to think. Unlike other exams, the PISA, as it is known, does not assess what teenagers have memorized. Instead, it asks them to solve problems they haven’t seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.
The latest results, released Tuesday morning, reveal the United States to be treading water in the middle of the pool. In math, American teenagers performed slightly worse than they usually do on the PISA — below average for the developed world, which means they scored worse than nearly three dozen countries. They did about the same as always in science and reading, which is to say average for the developed world.
But that scoreboard is the least interesting part of the findings. More intriguing is what the PISA has revealed about which conditions seem to make smart countries smart. In that realm, the news was not all bad for American teenagers.
Like all tests, the PISA is imperfect, but it is unusually relevant to real life and provides increasingly nuanced insights into education for researchers like Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the test at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. After each test, he and his team analyze the results, stripped of country names. They don’t want to be biased by their pre-existing notions of what teenagers in Japan or Mexico can or cannot do.
Continue reading the main story

A year later, after their analysis is finished, team members gather in a small conference room at their Paris offices to guess which countries are which. It’s a parlor game of the high-nerd variety — or, as Mr. Schleicher put it, “a stress test of the robustness of our analysis.”
When the team started this game back in 2003, it could predict about 30 percent of the variation in scores using its statistical models, Mr. Schleicher said. Now, the models can predict 85 percent of the variation.
So how do the researchers make their predictions? The process is not entirely intuitive. They can’t, for example, assume that countries that spend the most will do the best (the world’s biggest per-student spenders include the United States, Luxembourg and Norway, none of which are education superpowers).
Nor can they guess based on which countries have the least poverty or the fewest immigrants (places like Estonia, with significant child poverty, and Canada, with more immigrant students than the United States, now top the charts). All those factors matter, but they interact with other critical conditions to create brilliance — or not.
This year, when the PISA team made its guesses, it predicted the United States would show modest improvement. Eventually, it figured, the federal government’s ham-handed but consistent push to get states to prioritize their lowest-achieving students (under No Child Left Behind and other efforts) was likely to have some effect.
Team members expected Colombia to continue to improve, given policy makers’ focus on enrolling more students at younger ages and raising standards for entering teaching. Singapore would probably crush every other country, raising the bar for what children are capable of doing.
“An easy guess, maybe,” Mr. Schleicher said a bit sheepishly. “They are constantly looking outside for ways to improve, questioning the established wisdom. That’s the classic thing that Singapore has always done.”
Continue reading the main story


Continue reading the main story

Bad at Math

The United States is among the world’s biggest per-student spenders on education, but its 15-year-olds still trail in math against peers in most developed countries.
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Georgia
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Chile
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Lithuania
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Russia
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Czech Republic
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S. Korea
New Zealand
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Luxembourg
Spending, ages 6 to 15 →
By contrast, the team did not expect good news out of France, where Mr. Schleicher lives and where his children are enrolled in school. “Most reforms have been on the surface, not reaching into the classroom,” he said. “Nobody predicted France would be a star performer.”
Finally, it was time for the results: The analysts looked at the country names to see how their predictions held up. It was, by statistician standards, a huge thrill. The United States had not raised its average scores, but on measures of equity, it had improved. One in every three disadvantaged American teenagers beat the odds in science, achieving results in the top quarter of students from similar backgrounds worldwide.
This is a major accomplishment, despite America’s lackluster performance over all. In 2006, socioeconomic status had explained 17 percent of the variance in Americans’ science scores; in 2015, it explained only 11 percent, which is slightly better than average for the developed world. No other country showed as much progress on this metric. (By contrast, socioeconomic background explained 20 percent of score differences in France — and only 8 percent in Estonia.)
In the end, the PISA team had called virtually every country correctly. Colombia and Singapore had indeed improved. And France had done a bit worse in science and math while improving ever so slightly in reading. “It’s hard to surprise us when it comes to these things,” Mr. Schleicher said.
Here’s what the models show: Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.
Of all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so Mr. Schleicher did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America’s PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.)
But Mr. Schleicher urges Americans to work on the other lessons learned — and to keep the faith in their new standards. “I’m confident the Common Core is going to have a long-term impact,” he said. “Patience may be the biggest challenge.”
President-elect Donald J. Trump and Betsy DeVos, his nominee for education secretary, have called for the repeal of the Common Core. But since the federal government did not create or mandate the standards, it cannot easily repeal them. Standards like the Common Core exist in almost every high-performing education nation, from Poland to South Korea.
Some of the other reforms Americans have attempted nationwide in past years, including smaller class sizes and an upgrade of classroom technology, do not appear on the list of things that work. In fact, there is some evidence that both policies can have a negative impact on learning.
For now, the PISA reveals brutal truths about America’s education system: Math, a subject that reliably predicts children’s future earnings, continues to be the United States’ weakest area at every income level. Nearly a third of American 15-year-olds are not meeting a baseline level of ability — the lowest level the O.E.C.D. believes children must reach in order to thrive as adults in the modern world.
And affluence is no guarantee of better results, particularly in science and math: The latest PISA data (which includes private-school students) shows that America’s most advantaged teenagers scored below their well-off peers in science in 20 other countries, including Canada and Britain.
The good news is that a handful of places, including Estonia, Canada, Denmark and Hong Kong, are proving that it is possible to do much better. These places now educate virtually all their children to higher levels of critical thinking in math, reading and science — and do so more equitably than Americans do. (Vietnam and various provinces in China are omitted here because many 15-year-olds are still not enrolled in school systems there, limiting the comparability of PISA results.)
As we drift toward a world in which more good jobs will require Americans to think critically — and to repeatedly prove their abilities before and after they are hired — it is hard to imagine a more pressing national problem. “Your president-elect has promised to make America great again,” Mr. Schleicher said. But he warned, “He won’t be able to do that without fixing education.”