At the end of last year, there was a whole hullabaloo about the fact that US students only scored around average or below on the international PISA test scores. YIKES! AMERICAN SCHOOLS ARE FAILURES!!!!!
Except, on further analysis of the data, it doesn't really reflect poorly on American schools. Instead, our poor showing internationally doesn't really seem to be based on our school system at all. Rather, it speaks to the shocking fact that in a country of such abundance, one out of every five children lives in poverty....one of the highest levels of poverty among the OECD countries with whom we have been compared.
How can I say that? Because the National Association of Secondary School Principles analyzed the data by separating it by the level of poverty in the schools (as measured by the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs). IN EVERY CASE, the US students came in FIRST when compared to countries in the same poverty range (in many cases, the other countries has MUCH lower poverty rates, but at least fell into a comparable range).
So, for American kids who went to school in relatively rich schools (defined as schools where less than 10% of students had incomes low enough to qualify for lunch programs)....well, they kicked the butts of the top-ranked Finnish students (with a mere 3.4% of poverty level) by scoring 551 to the Finnish 536:
OK, so that include all those Ivy League feeder prep schools and such... but what about just those middle/upper middle class schools, where, say, 10-24.9% of students qualify for lunch program?
Source for all figures: NASSP
OK, well, how about our poor schools and our REALLY poor schools? Even compared to the OECD countries that have a higher than 50% poverty rate (Austria, Turkey, Chile, and Mexico), the US students still did better. So, when you compared apples to apples, the US students always came up on top, no matter how sweet or sour the apple selection was.
So according to the data, US education is doing an exemplary job at all levels--high income through low income student populations. Why, then, is "school reform" so fixated on blaming bad teachers and their "gang," the EVIL teachers' unions, for all of our educational woes?
My answer? It's back to my educational days as an existentialist. Existentialism argues that people will do anything to avoid facing up to their own responsibility. It is so much easier to blame uncaring and inadequate teachers, and one-sided teachers unions, and regulation-bound public school administrators, than to ask ourselves: How is it, that in a country that has so much, and so many live such abundant lives, that somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of our children live in poverty?
Hey, rather than admit that I'm part of the systemic poverty problem, I would rather blame those uncaring teachers and inflexible administrators myself. The thing is, I don't actually know any educators like that....