Hysteria Abounds: China Leads! America Slips! Finland Drops! Asia is Winning!
The U.S. is Losing! We're Dumb!
Finger-Pointing (especially comment sections):
It's the stupid parents! Lazy teachers! Coddled kids!
Let us take a breather and evaluate what this international test administered by the OECD represents beyond the rankings. Here are a few quick points to consider with two via the British Guardian:
East Asian countries top global league tables for educational performance
David Spieghalter, the Winton professor of the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said: "Pisa explores many factors associated with country performance but occasionally seem hasty in assigning reasons for change - we can't decide causality from this study, and we should be very cautious in the lessons to be learned."
Spieghalter added: "If Pisa measures anything, it is the ability to do Pisa tests. Aligning policy along a single performance indicator can be damaging. We need to look at the whole picture."
Reading the PISA Tea Leaves: Who Is Responsible for Finland's Decline and the Asian Magic
by Yong Zhao
. . .The recipe for the East Asian success is actually not that magical. It includes all the elements that have been identified as the symptoms of the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) by the great Finnish education scholar Pasi Sahlberg: Competition, Standardization, Frequent Testing, and Privatization. In East Asian high PISA performing systems, these ingredients are more effectively combined and carried out to an extreme to result in entire societies devoted to ensure that their youngsters become excellent test takers.While the East Asian systems may enjoy being at the top of international tests, they are not happy at all with the outcomes of their education. They have recognized the damages of their education for a long time and have taken actions to reform their systems. . . .
Shanghai surprise: are China's OECD education ranking scores all they seem?
China's financial centre is also an education powerhouse, but it - and the OECD figures - don't represent the Chinese system as a whole.
Students from Shanghai have once again led the list of top-scorers on the triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) education rankings, leaving countries such as the US and UK in the dust.
Yet experts say that while Shanghai's reputation as an educational powerhouse is well-deserved - the city topped the last test's rankings as well, in 2009 - it doesn't come close to representing China's education system as a whole.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) administered the test to more than half a million 15-year-old pupils in 65 countries. Shanghai, a metropolis of about 23 million people, topped the test results in all three of its subject areas - reading, maths and science. They shone especially brightly in maths, with a mean score of 613 points - 119 above the global average, equal to nearly three years' worth of schooling, according to the OECD's report. The US and UK languished in the middle.
. . .Yet Shanghai's superiority reflects China's ambition more than its reality. Its population is less than 2% of the country's total, and its per capita GDP is more than twice the national average. According to Tom Loveless, an expert on education policy at Harvard University, 84% of its high school graduates enrol (sic) in college, compared with 24% nationwide. Although students from 12 provinces took the test in 2009, Loveless wrote on the Brookings Institution thinktank's website, the Chinese government only shared Shanghai's scores.
"The OECD should be far more transparent than it has been about the agreements it has with the Chinese government concerning who is tested and which scores are released," he wrote.
. . . Going beyond this "league table" mentality, I am constantly surprised at the persistence, in ministerial talk and writing, of allegiance to:
- the "transmission theory" of education;
- the focus on rewards (even monetary ones) and punishment;
- the notion that the best questions have a single correct answer and a resulting suspicion of multiple plausible answers, productive errors, creative leaps, etc; and
- the preferred solution to poor performance on tests - the administration of more and more tests. It is like the misguided belief that if the patient is sick, the royal road to health involves repeating measurement of temperature.
If U.S. test scores were at the top of the charts, would we then be concerned that our students were robotic test-takers with the inability to think outside of the bubble sheet . . . lacking in initiative, the ability to apply what they've tested well on, and that innovative edge? Of course we'd like both but too much of the former creates a specific value system for "schooling" . . . which is different than an education.I don't mean to demean all Ministers of Education. As already suggested, some of them know better, and a few try to do better. It may be that there is something about the air in the ministries of the world, and in their all-too-frequent meetings with one another, which reinforces the worst of these misconceptions and repeats them endlessly to the public at large. . .
- C.J. Westerberg
Conceptualizing Math, not just rote; Hard work, not Talent is key says OECD advisor