Will America learn anything from 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…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.

❝ …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…

❝ 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.

❝ eOf 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 Andreas 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…

❝ 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.

❝ 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.”

A number of nations, from Canada to Estonia, have proven themselves able to learn from the data stream of PISA testing. Results have improved. Education levels and the ability to utilize education in life and work has improved.

I won’t spend time criticizing the critics. They do a fair enough job of that – on their own. Though I have strong opinions [voiced here in the past]. What I will offer is the hope that our readers and anyone else who cares for the future of America’s children will fight for broadly democratic solutions that enable and equip all our children instead of just the privileged few. Public education – if you haven’t noticed – is in danger of death by $tarvation.

GED test changes cause concern over higher standards

Educators are worried raising academic standards in the U.S. education system may discourage some people from taking high school equivalency exams.

The G.E.D. test will be changed in January to bring it in line with the Common Core — a set of standards for kindergarten through 12th grade students that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, The New York Times reported.

There is a lot of fear of it becoming too challenging,” said John Galli, assistant director at the Community Learning Center, an adult education center run by the City of Cambridge, near Boston.

So, maybe kids will be better off staying in school? What a concept.

The changes have caused concern for instructors and students as they try to prepare for the unknown, the newspaper said.

“The information we have is still very much up in the air,” said Catherine Pautsch, education and career pathways coordinator at Youth Build Just-a-Start, a non-profit group that helps young adults prepare for high school equivalency exams. “We haven’t had anyone take the test yet, so we’re not sure what it’s all going to look like.”

The cost of the test will also increase come January. Test-takers currently pay $60 in New York, but that will increase to $80 in January.

Yes, another pet peeve. We have an education system that fails every generation, seemingly getting worse as time passes. We experience boatloads of talk and very few efforts to raise standards. Standards that affect testing as well as teaching. Meanwhile the rest of the educated industrial world strolls by leaving young Americans in the dust.

If the agreed purpose of the Common Core is to raise the abilities of students what possibly is the aim of retaining an alternative that retains the lesser standards of the recent past? I don’t see very many worriers offer a convincing case that today’s students confront studies as demanding as those in vogue rolling back to the period immediately after World War 2. Yet, graduation rates, the number of students capable of entering college was much higher than today. The limiting factors were generally opportunity and economics.

I don’t see any benefit to fighting for lower standards.

The Common Core and the Common Good

America, we have a problem.

Our educational system is not keeping up with that of many other industrialized countries, even as the job market becomes more global and international competition for jobs becomes steeper.

We have gone from the leader to a laggard.

According to the Broad Foundation, an educational reform group, “American students rank 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading compared to students in 27 industrialized countries.”

And we have gone from No. 1 in high school graduation to 22nd among industrialized countries, according to a report last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That same report found that fewer than half of our students finished college. This ranked us 14th among O.E.C.D. countries, below the O.E.C.D. average. In 1995 we were among the Top 5…

A report this month by the company that administers ACT, the college admissions test, found that only a fourth of those tested were ready for college. And that was among motivated students who want to go to college, from all sorts of schools, not just public school students.

Any way you slice it, we’re not where we want or need to be.

Continue reading

New York Schools build on a Common Core approach


Eleni Giannousis teaching her English Class

A math teacher, José Rios, used to take a day or two on probabilities, drawing bell-shaped curves on the blackboard to illustrate the pattern known as normal distribution. This year, he stretched the lesson by a day and had students work in groups to try to draw the same type of graphic using the heights of the 15 boys in the class.

“Eventually, they figured out they couldn’t because the sample was too small,” Mr. Rios said. “They learned that the size of the sample matters, and I didn’t have to tell them.”

In three years, instruction in most of the country could look a lot like what is going on at Hillcrest, one of 100 schools in New York City experimenting with new curriculum standards known as the common core…an ambitious set of goals that go beyond reading lists and math formulas to try to raise the bar not only on what students in every grade are expected to learn, but also on how teachers are expected to teach…

The new standards give specific goals that, by the end of the 12th grade, should prepare students for college work. Book reports will ask students to analyze, not summarize. Presentations will be graded partly on how persuasively students express their ideas. History papers will require reading from multiple sources; the goal is to get students to see how beliefs and biases can influence the way different people describe the same events…

With 3,200 students, Hillcrest is the second largest school in the city’s pilot. Its size and diversity — whites are a minority (4 percent), Muslims are the religious plurality (about 30 percent) and one-tenth of students are learning English — made it an ideal laboratory to test how the standards might work in the city, officials said…

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer, said the city plans to create an instructional package with exercises that teachers at Hillcrest and other schools have used; student work they have assigned; and guidelines for evaluating the work…He cautioned against overly optimistic expectations.

“This isn’t one of those things where you flip the switch and tomorrow, everything is going to be different,” he said.

RTFA for details, a record of these bare beginnings. Similar to what is being tried in Brockton, Massachusetts in many ways. I hope NYC finds the same level of success.