American students have been outperformed… again. What should this tell us? And what can YOU do?

Lots of buzz today about the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which show how 15-year-olds from 65 nations fared on measures of math, reading, and science skills.

A few facts and figures:

  • More than 6,100 American students took the exams, administered last year.
  • Students in Asian nations stood out—as expected on the basis of previous scores—and some, like Shanghai and Singapore, extended their lead from the last assessment in 2009.
  • Students in the United States ranked 36th in math, 20th in reading, and 26th in science.

As New York Times reporter Motoko Rich noted today that “in the midst of increasingly polarized discussions about public education, the scores set off a familiar round of hand-wringing, blaming and credit-taking.”

But her reporting did not take note of commonalities among top-performing nations. Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and Economy, highlighted some of these earlier today:

Top-performing nations insist on solid preparation in the craft of teaching… and do not believe in alternative routes into teaching that skip this step… Shanghai has worked very hard to set up systems that have the effect of helping teachers to improve their practice year after year in a very disciplined way.

Let’s look at that last sentence again:

Shanghai has worked very hard to set up systems that have the effect of helping teachers to improve their practice year after year in a very disciplined way.

There is no question the United States could do a better job of attracting and preparing teachers. But it’s important to note, as Tucker has, that top-performing nations don’t stop there. They create comprehensive teacher development systems to ensure that children are taught by professionals who are constantly improving and innovating (and have time to do so). These nations aren’t investing in scattershot reforms but in making teaching an attractive, dynamic profession focused on the needs of students. Tucker was quite blunt in his assessment:

The current “education reform agenda” is bankrupt.  There is no evidence that it can succeed.  It is time to embrace a very different education reform agenda, the one that has proven itself in the PISA rankings.

So what do we do?

Just yesterday, CTQ co-released a practical guide to help decisionmakers improve teaching policy in America. In addition to CTQ, co-sponsoring organizations include the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, Opportunity Action, and Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).

Grounded in research, the guide highlights specific policies that are already working—in the United States and elsewhere. It advocates for a comprehensive teacher development system that spreads teacher expertise, as well as working conditions necessary for effective teaching. A very different reform agenda, as Tucker would say.

  1. Check it out.
  2. Tweet, like, share away with others who seek the best for kids in your district and state.

P.S. If you have a couple minutes, consider returning here to inspire others with how you are spreading the word.

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