The Problem of Education

The OECD has released the latest results from PISA (Program for International Student Assessment).  The key findings regarding US educational performance are not encouraging. Of the 34 OECD countries, the US ranks 26th in mathematics, 17th in reading, and 21st in science. The results in mathematics are of particular concern. As the OECD notes:

Just over one-quarter (26%) of 15-year-olds in the United States do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 of mathematics proficiency, at which level students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life. This percentage is higher than the OECD average of 23% and has remained unchanged since 2003. By contrast, in Hong Kong- China, Korea, Shanghai-China and Singapore, 10% of students or fewer are poor performers in mathematics.

At the other end of the performance scale, the United States also has a below-average share of top performers in mathematics. These students can develop and work with models for complex situations, and work strategically using broad, well-developed thinking and reasoning skills. Only 2% of students in the United States reach the highest level (Level 6) of performance in mathematics, compared with an OECD average of 3% and 31% of students in Shanghai-China. The proportions of top performers in reading and science in the United States are both around the OECD average.

The results are interesting given that the US is wealthy (ranked third in per capita GDP) and has more educated parents than most countries (ranked sixth in percentage of 35-44 year olds with tertiary education). While many might claim that the US fails to invest sufficiently in education, it spends more per student than most (ranked fifth). On this point, the OECD notes that the Slovak Republic performs at the same level as the US, but spends less than one half the amount per student.

It is clear we have a significant problem here (and a problem that dates back decades and has become more significant in a global economy). Motoko Rich (New York Times) has a piece on the PISA results and some of the competing reactions (they range from dismissing the results to calling for an expansion of the welfare state). While advocates will continue to promote their solutions, I am always reminded of As John Kingdon’s  classic Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. As Kingdon observes “In contrast to a problem-solving model…solutions float around in and near government, searching for problems to which to become attached.”  Events like the release of new data on educational performance can open a window of opportunity that facilitates the coupling of solutions and problems. Unfortunately, there is little to suggest that the solutions are genuinely solutions.

4 thoughts on “The Problem of Education

  1. Realizing our desire to reform education requires —
    “changing how we conceptualize schooling”.

    We must establish a framework of Bottom – up networking to “replace” our current Top – Down “authoritative” paradigm. This means establishing an infrastructure of communal networks that conduct action-oriented research into various problems that are impacting our schools/districts. ALSO, the philosophical underpinnings of our educational system (which is primarily “testing” oriented) must be modified to include performance-based assessments (I.e. portfolios). These fundamental underpinnings are essential to initiating changes (at a systemic) level. It will require practitioners to focus on the processes involved in learning subject matter. Process-oriented constructs include determining when student-centered vs. teacher-centered paradigms are most appropriate. But, it is not that simple! It requires knowledge and vision to direct the process of “re-engineering” of our educational paradigm!
    I am an independent scholar with “the schematic” to address “our” systemic problems! GENUINE SOLUTIONS–are available after more than a decade of independent research. I recently published all but the curriculum development portion of my book:
    ” A Practitioners Guide to Teaching & Learning” via:
    I Blog on issues pertaining to educational reform @ http://kennethfetterman/

  2. What do you expect, with all this touchy-feel PC teaching, the “new math” garbage (“Students should learn to develop their own methods” but then get marked down for not using the convoluted “magic-method” that their taught), letting them use calculators to find what 2+2 is? And paying teachers $10/hr when fast-food workers think they’re worth $15?

    I’ve got a friend who subs because no one will pay him for full-time; one day he had math class that had spent over half their year on FRACTIONS and nothing else. The kids got it, they were bored stiff with it, and the teacher wasn’t moving them on to the next subject. That’s the “No Child Left Behind” for you. If you’re teaching to the dumbest common denominator, you’re not going to create world-class students.

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