Educational Decline and the Leaning Tower of PISA Evaluation: If We Want to Score Higher, Reduce Childhood Poverty

In education circles, the education ‘reformers’ based on the recent release of the international PISA results, which placed the U.S. in the middle of the pack (as one might expect, high performing U.S. states did well). Needless to say, ‘reformers’ worked themselves into high dudgeon: one commentator even referred to these results as the new Sputnik. The city of Shanghai was the best in the world. Modern day Paul Reveres mounted up and cried, “The Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming!” AAIIIEEE!!! Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of Sputnik!

Let’s leave aside the methodological problems–and there are a hell of a lot of methodological issues (which hopefully I’ll deal with in a separate post). If we subdivide the U.S. data in a very obvious way, we observe something, well, rather obvious:

But data available now tells us that poverty, as usual, had a huge impact on PISA reading test scores for American students. American students in schools with less than 10% of students on free and reduced lunch averaged 551, higher than the overall average of any OECD country. Those in schools with 10 to 25% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch averaged 527, which was behind only Korea and Finland.

In contrast, American students in schools with 75% of more of children in poverty averaged 446, second to last among the 34 OECD countries.

We might not be living in a nation where one-third of a nation is ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. It’s only one in five, give or take. Improvement, I suppose.

I’ve made this point ad nauseum, but I’ll make it again, since education ‘reformers’, like creationists, are refractory to evidence. Until we get serious about reducing poverty, as well as breaking up large geographic concentrations of poverty, our average test scores will be poor.

But I’m sure we can fix that with some tax cuts and laying off government workers. Put another way, when the economy stalls and people lose their jobs, more kids are predisposed towards poor educational performance.

Might want to do something about that.

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1 Response to Educational Decline and the Leaning Tower of PISA Evaluation: If We Want to Score Higher, Reduce Childhood Poverty

  1. joemac53 says:

    Several years ago, as Math dept chair in a mostly affluent Massachusetts high school, I was given the latest SAT scores for my kids with the message “Our scores slipped! (5 points) What are you going to do about it?!”
    I was up to my eyeballs with MCAS-related crud, so I decided to actually look at the scores. Our school participation was very high (86 % of our seniors took SAT at the end of junior year). As I perused the names, I came across several who would not be mistaken for college-bound seniors, but they were good kids.
    I applauded my guidance counselors for encouraging these kids to take the test.
    I told my boss my plan for improving SAT scores was “nothing”. Maybe an alternative could be “remove the alarm clocks of the kids who will probably perform poorly so they miss the test”.
    I just could not get worked up about SAT scores. MCAS was another matter; I was happy for all the help we could get.

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