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PISA Results Underscore Need for Higher, Benchmarked Education Standards

By: Jeb Bush | Posted: December 5, 2013 2:30 PM
Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush

I believe in a strong America; an America that is the definitive beacon of opportunity, an America that is the global leader in economic prosperity, an America that has the most competitive workforce in the world.

But the daunting truth is that we are not that America. We are falling behind. We have to do better, for our children, and for generations to come who deserve a revived, strong nation.

Tuesday, results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. The assessment compares 15-year-olds from developed countries across the globe in math, science and reading. The results point to a jarring reality we all need to face in our country: our education system is not equipping our children for the competitive workforce.

Other countries are making faster progress. U.S. teenagers are now ranked 26th in math, 21st in science, and 17th in reading. Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong are leading the pack, while countries like Poland and Ireland surpassed us for the first time.

There is no excuse in the book to justify our performance on the world stage. We are in a competitive 21st century and it’s time we start preparing our kids to compete. Without adequately preparing our kids with the fundamental skills needed in school, how can we expect them to go on and contribute to a vibrant workforce? We need to do better.

Yesterday’s results dramatically underscore the need for higher, internationally benchmarked standards and a focus on foundational skills in K-12 education. We accomplish this by holding schools accountable for performance and providing teachers with the supports they need to help students meet these higher expectations. This improves our children’s opportunity to achieve success in school, college, career, and life, thereby preparing them to successfully compete with their peers around the globe.

However, we do see a positive outcome in the PISA results that reaffirms my core belief: all students can and will learn when education is focused on them. Massachusetts participated for the first time in the international benchmarking system and received separate scores. Massachusetts’ average scores were higher than both the U.S. and global average scores in all three subjects. The reason Massachusetts outperforms not only the rest of America but other countries? Reform works. In 1993, Massachusetts adopted a bold package of education reforms to transform the failing status quo and focus the system on students’ learning. They implemented rigorous standards and achievement tests that students have to pass to graduate.

Today other states are following their lead and it couldn't come at a more critical time.

 

Jeb Bush is founder and chairman of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He served as the 43rd governor of Florida, from 1999 through 2007. This email was distributed to the foundation's mailing list.

 


Comments (3)

Christel Swasey
11:20AM DEC 9TH 2013
Mr. Bush, you can't distort PISA to push Common Core down our throats. Have you read Professor Tienken's article on what PISA Says about PISA?

WHAT PISA SAYS ABOUT PISA



by Dr. Christopher Tienken

Pundits, education bureaucrats, and policy makers rejoice! It’s PISA time once again. Cue the dark music, fear mongering, worn out slogans and dogma about the United States education system failing the country economically. Sprinkle in “global competitiveness” throughout your press release, gush over how well those non-creative, authoritarian Asian countries performed, push your market oriented, anti-local control reforms, and presto, you are ready for prime-time education-reformer status. It seems as if America is suffering from a severe case of PISA envy. But what do the vendors of PISA say about PISA?

Unfortunately, the release of the latest PISA scores tells us nothing about the quality of a country’s education system, nor do the results predict economic doom or success. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2013, p.265), the private group that sells the PISA, the results should not be used to make sweeping indictments of education systems or important policy decisions. In fact, the vendors caution that the results of the PISA tests are a combination of schooling, life experiences, poverty, and access to early childhood programs, just to name a few factors:

“If a country’s scale scores in reading, scientific or mathematical literacy are significantly higher than those in another country, it cannot automatically be inferred that the schools or particular parts of the education system in the first country are more effective than those in the second. However, one can legitimately conclude that the cumulative impact of learning experiences in the first country, starting in early childhood and up to the age of 15, and embracing experiences both in school, home and beyond, have resulted in higher outcomes in the literacy domains that PISA measures.”

Not only are PISA results influenced by experiences “in the home and beyond”, but there is a sizeable relationship between the level of child poverty in a country and PISA results. Poverty explains up to 46% of the PISA scores in OECD countries (OECD, 2013, pp. 35-36). That does not bode well for the U.S. with one of the highest childhood poverty rates of the major industrialized countries.

Schooling does not end when a child turns 15 or 16, the ages of the students tested by PISA. Students continue their education for another 2-3 years and are thus exposed to more content. The vendors of PISA acknowledge that the scores from a 15 year-old child could not possibly predict or account for all that child knows or will grow to learn in the future. According to the PISA technical manual (OECD, 2009 p. 261) curriculum alignment and the selectiveness in countries’ testing populations also contribute to differences in the scores:

“This is not only because different students were assessed but also because the content of the PISA assessment was not expressly designed to match what students had learned in the preceding school year but more broadly to assess the cumulative outcome of learning in school up to age 15. For example, if the curriculum of the grades in which 15-year-olds are enrolled mainly includes material other than that assessed by PISA (which, in turn, may have been included in earlier school years) then the observed performance difference will underestimate student progress.”

Furthermore, the vendors reiterate their cautions that PISA is not aligned to any curriculum (2009, p.48):

“PISA measures knowledge and skills for life and so it does not have a strong curricular focus. This limits the extent to which the study is able to explore relationships between differences in achievement and differences in the implemented curricula.”

But what “skills for life” does PISA measure? A look at the released items suggest that some of the content measured is just rehashed versions of subject matter that has been around for the last 120 years: Hardly 21st century skills. PISA does not measure resilience, persistence, collaboration, cooperation, cultural awareness, strategizing, empathy, compassion, or divergent thinking.

So, if the vendors of PISA repeatedly warn that PISA is not aligned to school curricula, the scores are influenced strongly by poverty and wealth, the skills are left over from the 19th and 20th centuries, and out-of-school factors contribute to the overall education output in a country, then what does PISA really tell us about the quality of a school system or global competitiveness? Not much.

U.S. students have never scored at the top of the ranks on PISA or any other international test given since 1964. Countries like Estonia, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Poland, and Latvia outscore the U.S. on every PISA. Does that matter? What is their per-capita GDP? How many Nobel Prizes have they won? How many utility patents do they produce each year? Where have high PISA scores gotten them? Are they going to “out-compete” the U.S.? I don’t think so.

Beyond the utterly anti-intellectual statements being made about the latest round of PISA scores, there are some basic questions that policy makers, education bureaucrats, and the latest crop of self-proclaimed savior-reformers should answer before thrusting assertions and untested policies upon 50 million public school children.

What is your definition of global competitiveness?

How can one test predict global competiveness or economic growth?

Was the PISA test designed to predict economic growth (OECD, 2009; 2013)?

What empirical evidence do you have that high PISA scores result in higher levels of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship (Zhao, 2012)?

Are you aware, that when you disaggregate the data by percentages of poverty in a school, the U.S. scores at the top of all the PISA tests (Riddle, 2009)?

Do you know what disaggregate means?

If countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia, Vietnam, Latvia, and Poland routinely outscore us on PISA, why isn’t their per capita gross domestic product or other personal economic indicators equal to those in the U.S. (World Bank, 2013)?

What empirical evidence do you have that PISA scores cause economic growth in the G20 countries (Tienken, 2008)?

What jobs are U.S. children competing for in this economy?

What evidence do you have to demonstrate U.S. students are competing for the jobs you cite and with whom are they competing (evidence for that as well…)?

Do you think that lower wages is a reason multinational corporations choose to sell out the American public and set up shops in places like Pakistan,
Indonesia, Cambodia, India, China, Bangladesh, and Haiti?

Are you aware of the strong relationship between our growing trade with China and the loss of our manufacturing jobs (Pierce & Schott, 2012; Traywick, 2013)?

Why are companies like Boeing and GE allowed to give their technology, utility patents, and know-how to the Chinese in return for being able to sell their products in China (Prestowitz, 2012)?

Can higher PISA scores change the policy of allowing U.S. multinationals to give away our technological advantages?

Are you aware that only 10% of Chinese engineering graduates and 25% of Indian engineers are prepared to work in multinational corporations or corporations
outside of China or India (Gereffi, et al., 2006; Kiwana, 2012)?

If you are not aware of that fact, don’t you think you should be?

Are you aware that 81% of U.S. engineers are qualified to work in multinational corporations – the highest percentage in the world (Kiwana, 2012)?

Are you aware that adults in the U.S. rank at the top of the world in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship and that those adults were educated during a time of NO state or national standards (Tienken, 2013)?

If you are not aware of that fact, don’t you think you should be?

Are you aware that the U.S. produces the largest numbers of utility patents (innovation patents) per year and has produced over 100,000 a year for at least the last 45 years? No other country comes close (USPTO, 2012).

Did you answer “No” to three or more of these questions? If so, don’t you think it is time that you save the taxpayers money and resources and resign?
RC
12:15PM DEC 7TH 2013
Jeb Bush's desperation to become President has led him to drag Flroida Republicans down the surefire path of destruction, all tied to them supporting not Common Core, that is a distraction. The real issue is the wholesale destruction of parental rights they sold to the Federal Government because Obama placed the highest bid. Many truly fine Republicans voted for SB 2120 which transferred title to your children's future prosperity and liberty, did not know what they were doing that, they trusted Jeb (trust me buddy) and did not read SB 2120. They have betrayed their base, their soccer mom constituents, their dad constituents, their grandparent constitutents...all to promote the cultish devotion to all things Jeb.

They stole our sovereignty, they stole our sovereignty, they stole our sovereignty....all using our children as pawns...and we DEMAND THEY GIVE IT BACK. IT WAS NOT THEIRS TO SELL, CERTAINLY NOT FOR A BRIBE OF 259.00 PER STUDENT.

Tell us again Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford how, Common Core was not mandated by Obama. The RTTT grants demanded adoption of "consortium adopted standards". There was no such thing other than the CCSS because they were creating it to cycnically be able to lie to us. Then they required the LMS filter out anything not aligned to the standards (SB 2120 starting at line 1345). Here is that section:

(e) The advertisement shall give information regarding
1345 digital as to how specifications that which have been adopted by
1346 the department, including minimum format requirements that will
1347 enable electronic and digital content to be accessed through the
1348 district’s local instructional improvement system and a variety
1349 of mobile, electronic, and digital devices. Beginning with
1350 specifications released in 2014, the digital specifications
1351 shall include requiring the capability for searching by state
1352 standards and site and student-level licensing. Such digital
1353 format specifications shall be appropriate for the
1354 interoperability of the content. The department may not adopt
1355 specifications that require the instructional materials to
1356 include specific references to FCAT and Next Generation Sunshine
1357 State Standards and benchmarks at the point of student use in

Tell us again how the locals control curriculums when they have to allow the Feds to deliver what the "deem" aligned and appropriate for teachers to use as supporting materials.

Whatever legislators refuse to fix then and repeal the Race to the Top mandates they passed in to law, they are evil, or incompetent, or just so self interested they should be de-elected in 2014. This applies to Republicans and Democrats alike.
Jaxdru
12:22AM DEC 8TH 2013
Agree with you 100%. And I will not vote for a politician regardless of party who supports Common Core. This is going to be worse than Obamacare.

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