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Comparisons: The "PISA Myth" Everyone Loves

image from 3.bp.blogspot.com Everyone loves the "US schools are awful" myth, according to this post (The amazing truth about PISA scores) Ezra Klein noted in Wonkbook this morning.  Why?

"The liberal left in U.S and in Europe loves this myth, because they get to demand more government spending, and at the same time get to gloat about how much smarter Europeans are than Americans. The right also kind of likes the myth, because they get to blame social problems on the government, and scare the public about Chinese competitiveness."

Take out uneducated nonwhite immigrants and American schools (red bar) aren't doing all that bad on PISA, apparently. 


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While your analysis may be true, Alexander, it also leaves one of the fastest growing, poorest, and most challenged segments of our society out of the picture: children of immigrant families, whether first, second or third generation, many of whom are of low socioeconomic status (SES). These students are struggling mightily to succeed in our school systems. Much of their struggle is a result of low SES, and its concomitant challenges such as limited: adult supervision, academic support, parental educational background, free time to study, etcetera. These shortcomings need to be addressed before it is realistic for anyone with these constraints to have any chance of achieving parity with more privileged students. No matter how many teachers or principals are fired, schools restarted, charters implemented, all will yield minimal success if parents and students still bear burdens like these that others do not.

Furthermore, while I agree that there are many statistical subtleties to statements regarding the condition of our educational system, and that most interest groups, of all political persuasions, distort the data to suit their needs, it is also as misleading to highlight the standing of one, more privileged, race at the exclusion of others to make a point that our national standing on PISA, as a middle of the pack score, is a myth, or so your posting seems to imply.

You seem to wield significant influence in your blog, I hope you, and all edupundits for that matter, keep integrity, honesty, and fairness in mind whenever you make posts related to improving education. Half truths of one persuasion are as much a myth as others, and just as damaging to the debate, and ultimately progress towards equitable education for all.

Update to Initial Comment: When writing my initial comment, Alexander, I did not click through the link you posted: The amazing truth about PISA scores. After reading that author's posting, I see that the chart, as well as data and analysis related to the chart is the author's, and not yours. It was not clear from your posting if the chart, or analysis was yours, notwithstanding your use of quotation marks around an excerpt from the author's posting.

Nonetheless, I still take issue, as I describe in detail in my initial comment, with your post, especially your commentary: "Take out uneducated nonwhite immigrants and American schools (red bar) aren't doing all that bad on PISA, apparently."

As I mentioned, you have considerable influence with your postings, I hope you find it in your heart, and mind, to wield that influence credibly, for the good of all students, not just the privileged few. And please accept my apologies if I offend in my tone, I do not know what you truly meant, and I suspect you are a strong advocate for our school systems. At the same time, this is a great "teachable moment" as we are so apt to say in education; I am open to being on the receiving end, too.

Lastly, I believe, and I sense you may too, that the vast majority of teachers, principals, schools, etcetera care tremendously for their current students, irrespective of class, race, ethnicity, etcetera. At the same time, something is not working, and fixes are in order. The real question is where will the most impact be realized? As I mention in my initial comment, it MUST include efforts to address the inequities, and challenges, associated with low socioeconomic status. Any effort elsewhere will simply be superficial at best, and a waste of time, effort, and scarce resources at worst.

Sadly, the depth and breadth of the issues associated with low socioeconomic status are monumental, and touch upon political and economic positions that differ vastly among our nation's citizens, as witnessed everyday in the news, in the blogosphere, etcetera. Given this, and until an acceptable, effective nonpartisan solution is created, my belief is that individual communities must take responsibility for the success of their local schools, hence their children's academic achievement.

In many ways, the American spirit to overcome calamity, to take charge of your life, to influence your destiny, and to pursue the American Dream for a better life must be shared with, and frequently re-ignited, amongst communities with high poverty. Hope must exist, and be realistically achievable for these communities to make a sustained effort at achieving success for their children. Unfortunately, snake oil salesmen in the guise of education reformers are peddling solutions like firing all teachers, restarting schools as charters, etcetera WITHOUT explaining to parents and students that significant effort on their part is required to attain academic achievement. Said effort being a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success irrespective of whether it is a private, public, parochial, or charter school.

Thanks for the opportunity to state my case and beliefs about where, and how, effort should be focused. If Bill Gates, and a few other philanthropists, working with select local community leaders, parents, teachers, etcetera would collaborate on how to address the inequities of poverty, and its deleterious impact on academic achievement, they would realize a significant moral return on investment, as opposed to the haphazard, shotgun approach that to date has yielded limited improvement, and nothing on a national level of any statistical significance. Once they piloted this approach, it might be scalable across the nation since the primary focus is determined and driven locally, with significant human resource contributed by the community as well. It may not be what many would prefer, since much of the hard work falls upon the local communities, as supplanted by grants and other financial assistance from philanthropies, local, state and federal programs. But realistically, many of those in these communities who understand what progress requires will gladly join in if they see a path forward, unimpeded by class, race, ethnic, or other inequities that are insurmountable, or perceived as su

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