Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Un-education of American Teenagers

On the NBC Nightly News program tonight, Brian Williams reported on the just released results of the 2009 edition of the PISA test—Program for International Student Assessment. The PISA is administered to high school students in countries around the world. In 2009, 470,000 students in 65 countries took the test. 2009 was the first year that China participated.

First, the bad news. American students ranked "average" compared to 34 similarly developed nations. Out of the 34 countries, America scored 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. America's scores were slightly higher than on the 2003 and 2006 tests, so there has been improvement, but still ranked far below nations like Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong (Singapore), China (Shanghai), and even Canada. China (surprise, surprise) scored highest of all nations in math.

In an article about the PISA results on the NBC web site, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said (in part), "We have to get much more serious about investing in education."

I almost laughed out loud! For years, America has spent more money per child on educating than any other nation. Among the 2009 country-participants, only Luxembourg spent more than the U.S. Estonia and Poland scored about equal with the U.S. on the tests while spending half per-child of what the U.S. spends. The problem is obviously not money.

The video accompanying the news piece spoke volumes to me. The video of a class session in a Chinese high school (public? private? I don't know) showed neatly groomed teens sitting at desks arranged in careful rows listening attentively to an instructor who was at the board explaining math. The students all wore matching sweatshirt-type tops with a logo of some kind on them. Very impressive --

The video of an American high school class was less so. Students at desks arranged rather haphazardly -- I won't say the kids were slouching, but there was a marked difference. And of course, they were all dressed differently. ("Self-expression," I guess we call it.) One shot showed the very obese upper arm of a girl being raised to ask or answer a question. (Didn't see any obese kids in the Chinese class.)

I have to say that I was shaking my head at the end of the news report having seen the video segments. I can only say that I am profoundly grateful not to have children I love in America's public school system that is dominated by the NAE union whose top priority is teacher/administrator tenure and retirement, weak accountability, and maintaining the status quo. We've been talking about education reform in America for years -- and yes, there have been some improvements as mentioned above in terms of international rankings. But until public schools once again become centers of education instead of centers for social experimentation and interaction among culture-infected teenagers, progress will surely be slow.

Like many, I grieve for what America has become -- from the very early days when young teens were required to know Latin and Greek before entering Harvard, to the present. But there are bright spots . . .

The last feature on the broadcast was about a trio of beautiful, poised, and amazingly talented young African-American teenage girls from Chicago—three cousins who call themselves the SugarStrings—who play classical music on violin, viola, and cello. They've been performing together for six years—the feature showed them giving a concert at a local predominantly black grammar school where the children were clearly enthralled with the music. (Encouraging to see the children's matching school shirts!) The SugarStrings were amazing. They began playing at ages 5, 3, and 3 at the prompting of parents and grandparents. You can see the NBC segment at this link (look around for the SugarStrings segment.)

I'm not naive enough to think that China has it all together and America doesn't. But in the decades to come, I don't see how "average" is going to compete with #1.

No comments:

Post a Comment