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December 4, 2007

U.S. students scores mediocre

There is more bad news about how our students stack up next to their peers in other nations today. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released the results of its assessment of the skills of 15-year-olds in science, math and reading in the major industrialized nations. There were 57 nations that participated, 30 members of the OECD.

Our scores were flat since 2003 and continue to be below the average of of the 30 OECD countries and in the middle of all the countries where students were tested.

Here is what the U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, had to say in a press release that arrived this morning.

"While disappointing, it speaks to what President Bush has long been advocating for: more rigor in our nation's high schools; additional resources for advanced courses to prepare students for college-level studies; and stronger math and science education. In fact, students are being assessed in science Under No Child Left Behind this school year. And, the President has proposed making science assessments an element of states' accountability calculations.

I wonder what teachers and principals out there believe? Do you think more testing in science would improve teaching and knowledge?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!, Testing
        

Comments

While this is never good - I think these international studies can be a bit misleading. I wonder if they show what percentage of the population has access to public education? From last I read, we at least attempting to educate everyone... That's an odd thing to say, but when you compare a number of East Asian countries, the percentage of students in the US that have access to public education is significantly more. I don't want to throw out percentages because I don't want to make them up, but I'd be interested to see if this is in the report anywhere?

Bravo, Bill!

And Liz, in response to your last question, I don't think "more testing" in anything improves teaching and knowledge. Although the skills our students need in order to do well on standardized tests are good skills to have, they are not the be-all and end-all of life.

Effective, efficiently run professional development for teachers on research-based methods of instruction would help improve teaching (I have yet to be involved in a professional development session such as this). Teaching our students to be critical thinkers would improve knowledge. Teaching our students to write a BCR to answer a question in five lines using "words, numbers, and/or symbols" does not.

I work with some of Baltimore City's elite High Schools and worst Middle Schools. These numbers are irrelevant unless broken down by category. I'm sure our private school children and public school children from nice areas compare favorably across the globe. However, many of our public schools are in a different universe. Anyone who thinks more testing in science will help these underachieving schools is willfully ignorant.

They need better administrators, better teachers, better facilities, and better families first. Advanced education is a good thing but it cannot be our first and foremost priority.

Finally whenever you ask for more of something in a world of finite resources you're also asking to take away from something else. AKA, the arts and humanities. If you believe in a well rounded liberal arts education that teaches people how critically think than you can't be for such cuts.

Corey - you make some excellent points, and some not so excellent points.

I agree with the idea that it's difficult to capture everything in one survey. I don't think it's necessarily the teachers at issue, for the most part. I think if good leaders/administrators tapped into teachers' current potential more effectively, we would see better results. I don't think it's the teachers, it's the framework within which the teachers are working.

Second - the finite resources argument is a bogus argument. Unless you can rationally tell me that Baltimore City is producing at it furtherest point on the production possibilities frontier, this is not a zero sum game. Further, advancing technology creates a basic outward shift in this PPF curve. Simple economic theory suggests that by increasing technology, efficient means of production, access to capital/natural resources, and trade we can shift out without losing anything. Think... a football stadium. We say... that money could be used for education instead of a hotel/stadium. However, the assumption is that the money would be available w/o the stadium concept. That's the problem. When you introduce a new attractive concept, money finds it's way there not necessarily because it's coming from somewhere else, but because it's a new innovative idea (innovative is a stretch). Point is - the current state of affairs in Baltimore City makes it pretty clear that we're not at full potential. Since we're not, we are not dealing with a zero sum game. Problem is, politicians and the like make news by making a false dichotomy - either this or that. It's simply not true in all/most situations. We just need to look deeper into the issue before determining it's always win/loss.

Bill, stop making me look bad! For real though I appreciate your response.

What exactly do you mean by the framework? No Child Left Behind certainly provides some incentives for administrators to make some strange decisions. For example many discourage teachers from failing students who are indeed failing because those statistics are vital for acquiring better funding...for the students! Meanwhile those students are unrightfully promoted to another grade where they won't learn. So a rational decision by the administrator = kids losing.

I agree this is a problem of framework, but the framework is only the beginning of the problems. We have a lot of terrible teachers in our school who merely babysit the kids before summertime. I know of some teachers who show their kids Jerry Springer in class. Others who promoted the use of marijuana because "no one can tell me what to do." I could go on but the point is we need A LOT of new teachers and administrators. Even before the framework is changed good teachers know how to "play the game" so that their kids can still succeed. Long term we change the framework, short term though new teachers and administrators come first.

In regards to your second point, I completely agree. I should've said in a political world of finite resources. If they're able to fund advanced science and mathematics education without taking away from other classes I'm all for it. I've yet to see that be the case. What is so innovative and attractive about "stronger math and science education" that it will bring in additional revenue?

The Robotics Club.

No, but seriously, I don't have the answer. I really really wish I did. All I know is that I'm just going to have to keep reading these blogs, journals, and random studies to see if I can figure it out. Right now though - I have NO idea. I think things like the Robotics Club and Math/Science competitions are sort of the homegrown variety of the types of programs that will find themselves funded without detracting from other disciplines. I think the more new, strong (not mutually inclusive) principals and administrators we bring in and the more control we give them over their own resources, the better chance we'll have to see some innovative programs take shape.

The failing issue. If it's only NCLB that's causing this "failing" problem, then what happened from 1980-2002? NCLB is the dartboard today, but I wouldn't place as much blame as you are on NCLB. There are a WHOLE lot of issues that I think are terrible about NCLB - but schools weren't any better before it. It's not all the sudden schools are passing along students because of this federal legislation...

On the other hand, there are some things about it that really interest me. This analogy is EXTREMELY stretched, but in my current research I've been looking at wind/solar power markets. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but really it's not. The market for wind power and solar power (pretty much all alternative energy) is a COMPLETELY MADE UP MARKET! It doesn't exist. There is no natural market for wind power. However, a few key states, and now possibly federal enacting legislature may make the wind/solar power market the most attractive future investments for venture capital firms. Now, the outputs are clearly very different. But, here, the government created a market by creating trade-able subsidies. The big firms (HIG, Goldman, Lehman) realized the potential money maker that was "power credits" and started selling these stock credits in an open market. NCLB attempts to get public education to a place where output measurement becomes more possible. In theory, if we can create an accurate measure, subsidize efficient production of the measure, and create a market for quality, urban education we could have a lot of eyes that normally wouldn't be focused on education, looking at education. This might be a complete pipedream, but it's an argument by analogy that I'm toying with in my head. Don't get me wrong, I think public education is completely distinguished from private markets and business, but we know at least right now SOME market exists - at least enough to get people NOT to send their kids to certain schools. How do we tap into the good, organize it, subsidize it, and produce it efficiently? Wind didn't matter until "public opinion" started demanding it. Maybe it'll take a similar market shift to create - but looking at programs out there like Teach for America and BCTR, public education is becoming a hotter topic. Anyways, that's what I've got. We'll see if it's possible...

Also, I really didn't mean to offend in the last post, I just want to challenge people to take leaps of critical thinking faith to see if we can come up with something great to make this city's public education excellent.

For my safety, I'm glad Bill is debating with Corey this time :) But seriously, folks...

You both raise some excellent points - and I agree with both of you on the majority of your arguments. I just wanted to share an example of why Corey's point about fairly finite political and administrative resources is an unfortunate reality in the BCPSS.

For the years I taught in BCPSS, the focus was absolutely on math and language arts. Why? Because they were tested. As a result, not only did they receive the major bulk of all monetary resources, they also received more of something far more precious to me - instructional minutes. At my school, every class was 90 minutes - but my students only came to Science and Social Studies class every OTHER day. Therefore, it required two weeks of time to get through one week of material - THEORETICALLY. In reality, if an adolescent is only coming to your class every other day, homework is often forgotten, the previous classwork is often forgotten, and little emphasis is placed on the class that meets every other day.

The students attended Math and Language Arts every single day. And yet, the pass rate is still in the teens and lower 20s. I always used to ask, what is going to happen when Science is also tested?? The response: "you [the teacher] will probably get blamed for not preparing your students well enough."

Now where's the justice in that?

The robotics club.

No, but seriously, I don't have the answer. I really really wish I did. All I know is that I'm just going to have to keep reading these blogs, journals, and random studies to see if I can figure it out. Right now though - I have NO idea. I think things like the Robotics Club and Math/Science competitions are sort of the homegrown variety of the types of programs that will find themselves funded without detracting from other disciplines. I think the more new, strong (not mutually inclusive) principals and administrators we bring in and the more control we give them over their own resources, the better chance we'll have to see some innovative programs take shape.

The failing issue. If it's only NCLB that's causing this "failing" problem, then what happened from 1980-2002? NCLB is the dartboard today, but I wouldn't place as much blame as you are on NCLB. There are a WHOLE lot of issues that I think are terrible about NCLB - but schools weren't any better before it. It's not all the sudden schools are passing along students because of this federal legislation...

On the other hand, there are some things about it that really interest me. This analogy is EXTREMELY stretched, but in some recent discussions I've been looking at wind/solar power markets. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but really it's not. The market for wind power and solar power (pretty much all alternative energy) is a COMPLETELY MADE UP MARKET! It doesn't exist. There is no natural market for wind power. However, a few key states, and now possibly federal enacting legislature may make the wind/solar power market an extremely attractive place for private industry. Now, the outputs are clearly very different. But, here, the government created a market by creating trade-able subsidies. The big banks realized the potential money maker that was "power credits" and started selling these credits in an open market (semi-open I think... don't really know too well about this part). NCLB attempts to get public education to a place where output measurement becomes more possible. In theory, if we can create an accurate measure, subsidize efficient production of the measure, and create a market for quality, urban education we could have a lot of eyes that normally wouldn't be focused on education, looking at education. This might be a complete pipedream, but it's an argument by analogy that I'm toying with in my head. Don't get me wrong, I think public education is completely distinguished from private markets and business, but we know at least right now SOME market exists - at least enough to get people NOT to send their kids to certain schools. How do we tap into the good, organize it, subsidize it, and produce it efficiently? Wind didn't matter until "public opinion" started demanding it. Maybe it'll take a similar market shift to create - but looking at programs out there like Teach for America and BCTR, public education is becoming a hotter topic. Anyways, that's what I've got. We'll see if it's possible...

Also, I really didn't mean to offend in the last post, I just want to challenge people to take leaps of critical thinking faith to see if we can come up with something great to make this city's public education excellent.

Bill, as always I love your post and find myself agreeing with you on most of what you say. And by the way, I have never been offended by your comments - I find them riveting, well thought, and an excellent read. I just REALLY enjoy it when we disagree, however, because it gives me something to do other than memorize fact after fact so I can some day become a doctor!

Like you, I have no idea what the answer is to all these questions. I do know this - too many politicians and public officials search for short-term fixes that have no chance of long-term solvency, but can provide them with a short-term soundbite. I will always remember how disgusted I was with the interim CEO last year when she unabashedly claimed credit for the slight increase in test scores. Her unprofessional act of hubris ensured that I would never find her to be a suitable CEO for my students' schools. But I digress...

I have a question for you regarding your example. I see your point about the benefits of marketing education as a commodity. But unlike wind/solar power where we can create technology and then analyze it with very accurate and specific measures of success, how does one accomplish that with education? There is absolutely no panacea in education. Within a single classroom there can be 35 different learning styles, much less in a whole nation. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the Edison schools, an example I believe fits into your paradigm, is not wildly successful.

PS: I was a science teacher, but physics/robotics is not my thing. So instead, my answer would be "Ecology Club" (imagine the possibilities in Baltimore) or "Rocket Club" (just because who doesn't like rockets, I mean honestly!)

Haha Bill you didn't offend me at all I was just joking. I love having conversations with intelligent people about topics I care about.

I think you misunderstood my example about failing kids. I wasn't sure what you meant by framework so I assumed you meant NCLB and brought up an awkward situation NCLB puts administrators in. The problem of failing and passing kids along is certainly deeper taen the policy du jour. I remain unsure what you meant by framework.

I love your theory regarding output measurement but I fear it's fundamentally flawed (you like that alliteration). The first step is creating an accurate measure, but how do you do that in art and humanities? The second you can objectively measure such subjects is the second you've lost their meaning. The reason NCLB focuses on math and science is because they wouldn't know how to test elsewhere. I don't mind teaching to the test as long as the test is meaningful. Right now what we're teaching is to memorize and regurgitate information. That's a valuable skill, it requires hard work and concentration, but that's not a true education. That doesn't require critical thinking.

I had to cut off my thoughts short last comment to go back to work but don't forget about the debate club and chess club! Be back later to argue more.

Thanks for the solid thoughts Artie and Corey. I agree, I certainly enjoy checking to see new posts. This one will try to be short though - I'm getting a little worried about exams that start on Monday so I should probably start studying a bit more... anyways...

Definitely the fundamental flaw is measurement. Ultimately I think it would have to be some sort of "basket of goods" type measurement like inflation. Inflation is easy because it's all dollars/cents. Edison schools would be a model, but I don't think they've been successful in Baltimore. They have by far the highest suspension rates in the city (relatively speaking) and their test scores don't seem much different from any other school in the Academic Area. Point being though, if the market had a good measurement and easily accessed information then Edison would be out of business - literally.

In the end I think it will all come down to measurement. However, if someone does in fact create a way to appropriately measure academic success and improvement, that's when the market for education would be possible. For renewable energy, I think the real measure is carbon emissions - a relative ton of carbon emissions. Problem being in the analogy a ton = a ton = a ton. Not the case with schools. But, we do measure academic success in other ways - grades, test-scores, projects. I'm not sure how it would be transfer because there would have to be measures of variable improvement and gradual increases of scores over time, behavior/social service provision variables, etc...

The other possibility would be "buying shares" in schools. I'm not so sure how this would work, but there has got to be a way to invest a larger community other than current stakeholders.

Ok - that's all of got for now. I really do have to study unfortunately. One last thing - I certainly love rockets and I'm all for debate club. Off to civil procedure...

There was a very interesting article in the NYTimes about a research study conducted by the ETS. It finds that there are reasons for the achievement gap in our nation and reasons that explain why the US scores may be lower than other nations. DUH!

Overall, the reasons given are what I have been saying all along! It's nice that now there is "research" to support what I have argued in the past. HOWEVER, we must be careful with research that lists many examples of why there is a gap. We can't become complacent. It is my opinion that while there are many reasons that prevent the schools IN THEIR CURRENT FORM from helping our students (especially in BCPSS) be as successful as possible, that IS NOT to say that a complete restructuring of how we teach our students with the most need would not be able to achieve closing the gap.

Check out the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/09Rparenting.html

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