As you read this, U.S. students are gearing up to take or ave recently completed the biggest cross-national tests, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), along with students from about 70 other developed and developing countries.
The most recent PISA numbers were released in December 2015, when U.S. student achievement as measured by the test remained the same or worse than three years earlier.
Then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan assessed these results as educational “stagnation.” Others were even harsher. Nationally renowned educator Stuart A. Singer, author of “The Algebra Miracle,” assessed the US performance as “the bad (and) the ugly,” suggesting that, by comparison, our brightest are not that bright.
What is PISA? PISA is an international assessment “that measures 15-year-old students’ reading ability as well as mathematics and science literacy along with other key general cross-curricular competencies such as problem solving. In the United States, PISA is administered by the National Center for Educational Statistics, or NCES.
On the average, the NCES estimated that the U.S. spent $12,509 per public school student during the 2015-2016 school year. That is a great deal more than compared to many countries that performed better in PISA than the United States, such as Estonia and Vietnam.
One could easily make the case that money is not the major determining factor in educational achievement. In this country, some of the lowest-performing districts may have some of the highest per-student expenditures.
Experience shows that blaming teachers, administrators, parents, politicians, or even students has not helped. The culture of the community views of education must play a major role in student achievement.
I used to teach a class titled “Comparative and International Education” in which I highlighted what educators are doing in other countries that we are not doing here. We do not have the room or the time to cover a lot here, but I ask myself these questions regularly:
1. When walking into the halls of a U.S high school, you often are overwhelmed with pictures of student-athletes and trophies adorning the walls, but it’s hard to find even a single artifact celebrating the highest academically achieving students.
Why is that? No one knows who the genius in math in the building is, but adults in the building make sure that everyone knows who the quarterback is.
2. Why is it that International Baccalaureate, or IB, and Advanced Placement, or AP, courses are not the norm in this system? Is it because standardized tests are cheap to create, require less time to grade, and are easier to administer?
IB is the only system most countries know and apply, but the test is not cheap to create, not easy to administer, and requires a lot of time as well as a huge personnel commitment on the part of the schools. However, at the conclusion of the AP and IB testing process, it is far easier to accurately quantify the academic performance of the student.
3. Is it always about money in educational institutions? Why it is that high school coaches are paid higher per hour for working with student-athletes than the teachers for tutoring students in math?
Why is it that major university coaches are paid sometimes up to 20 times more than a Nobel Prize winner who teaches at the same institution? Why is it that year after year we hear of student-athletes who are given fake grades so that they can compete?
In educational institutions, do we place too much emphasis on sports and not enough on academics?
An honest assessment of these and other questions might help profoundly transform education in this nation.
One other note about why students from other parts of the world score higher than their U.S. counterparts: Some analysis suggests that learning multiple languages enhances students’ intelligence, allowing them to score higher on the same tests that monolingual students.
Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D., is the president of All World Languages and Cultures Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. To reach him, call 888-646-5656 or send email to email@example.com.