It’s almost perversely amusing watching the folks at the New York Times trying to sort out recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores. PISA is a standardized test administered to students around the globe. It is used to compare academic performance across countries. Lately, PISA is a regular reminder that the United States is spending almost a trillion dollars of taxpayer money on education every year to achieve academic declines and a widening achievement gap.
From the NYT:
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.
And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.
The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers.
Over all, American 15-year-olds who took the PISA test scored slightly above students from peer nations in reading but below the middle of the pack in math.
How have we produced a generation of students where 2/3 are not proficient readers? How has the same country that put a man on the moon and cars on Mars turned into a country that is below-average in math globally?
If you are at the bottom of the pack in the United States, your circumstances are even worse than that:
About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.
Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.
Our homeschooled 7-year-old is already a stronger reader than a large fraction of public high school students who are supposedly two years away from college age. That’s insane.
How is it that countries like Peru and Colombia are seeing gains in literacy when the United States is not? These are not countries that have a trillion dollars a year to shower on public education.
The New York Times, of course, does not want to attribute this problem to Common Core, the reform darling of liberal educators. Instead, they suggest that the “decentralized” nature of public education might be the culprit. It’s hard to provide unified content to every school district in the US, so we should give the architects of Common Core more control over education and more money. Then we can really see what a bottomless pit our education system can become.
I guess it probably never occurred to them that education in the United States has been decentralized for the entirety of US history and that this systematic level of failure is what’s new.
The achievement gap in education is not difficult to understand. When public schools suck and “reform” means promoting an incoherent, nonsensical curriculum and devoting more classroom time to identity politics than fractions, the kids who get ahead are going to be from strong family units (i.e., their parents are still married) with more economic resources (i.e. their household has a high earner or two incomes). These are the families that will buy books for their children, invest in the best technology, hire SAT tutors, and send their kids to robotics camps. Everyone else gets to survive and be passed through a system that will teach them practically nothing that makes them career- or college-ready. Parents will spend money wisely on education when the government mostly sets money on fire.
Then you have folks like Elizabeth Warren, who sent her own children to private schools that now cost close to $40,000 a year to attend, demanding that we shut down or regulate charter schools into oblivion. (Well, technically, Warren only sent her son to elite private schools. She left her daughter in public schools. I’d love to see the feminist interpretation of that thought process.)
I have said many times that charter schools have become this generation’s historically black colleges and universities. They are how minority communities are achieving the social mobility that is being denied them by our power-hungry, money-guzzling bureaucracy. You have a lot of minorities who have seen success in their professional lives who are giving back to their communities by helping the next generation escape a school system that is mostly just preparing them for welfare or prison. It’s not an accident that public education barnstormers like Warren have zero support from black voters.
Education failures in the United States present quite the paradox. Epic amounts of money are being spent on education (and that’s before you get into the trillions of dollars of outstanding student debt for higher education) and information more easily available now than it ever has. There are better free K-12 education materials online now than what is being used in classrooms. How do you take those circumstances and turn them into lower academic performance? It’s remarkable what destructive public policy can accomplish.