Friday, January 23, 2015


For some, the worst nightmare in education has been Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It is a test designed to compare the quality of education of student in different countries. Although everyone hates submitting themselves to tests, educational systems that rank low hate it while those who rank high love it. The enigma becomes more complex when people realize good teachers love it and bad teachers hate it. Good teacher learn from their students test that they are not doing but also learn how to do a better job. A bad test score in the hands of an incompetent administrator can be career shattering for that teacher when it should not be. It gets worse when within your country, your peers consider you a good teacher, but when compared to other countries you are not, which is precisely what PISA detects—it detects the unwelcome truth.

Our government saw the PISA results and attempts to do something about it with a program called, “Common Core”. The United States student ranked 36th in math, 28th in science, and 24 in reading. The extreme right wing of the political spectrum was offended—the hated government was sticking its nose in their business; stealing their states sovereignty, preventing their individuality from flourishing. Bad teacher raised up in anger; teaching what will be on tests is bad, it makes the teachers vulnerable to bad administrators, it harms students, teaching science violates their religions freedom, math is so hard even he parents can’t do it, and reading is bad because of all the trash there is to read.  Our state, I live in backward North Carolina, passed a law to reject Common Core and replace it with a state program. Guess what, no program has been proposed.

Remember the up roar caused by the opening scenes in Newsroom, the Aaron Serkin written TV series. A university student made the statement that the United States was the greatest country in the world. The protagonist of the show, a news castor, created uproar in Republican circles when he responded that, the Untied States is “not the greatest country in the world” and cited a number of statistics showing we rank low in a number of areas, to prove his point. PISA is the kind of comparison we needed to stir us to recognize we have a problem and then cause us to act on solving that problem.

This entire debate over Common Core is asinine. The truth is that our students are not learning what they should learn. They have dedicated teachers—there is no such thing as a good teacher that is not dedicated—but students are not learning because the standards are set too low. The standards are too low because both the teachers and the students live in the United States, the best country in the world, where we compare our selves with our selves. It is like reading an autobiography to learn the truth about a person, which is the last place to look if you want to know the truth.  PISA tells us the truth and the truth hurts.

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