The new PISA results showing American students fell behind more nations in reading, math, and science are being used to criticize our current education system while others are employing PISA to bash or elevate the reforms many have proposed to improve it. I have two reactions to both efforts:
1. Should test scores really be the only barometer for judging an education system—national, state, or local?
Local people—parents and taxpayers—know their schools and communities best, so let them determine whether or not their schools are meeting the needs and priorities of families and communities. Assessment—including standardized testing—is an important indicator for evaluating schools, but it is definitely not the only indicator. As we recently showed, there are a variety of reasons parents choose particular schools for their kids, and tests scores are a minor consideration.
2. Why point fingers at “this reform” and “that reform” when no structural reform has been scaled broadly enough to truly transform American education?
On the Friedman Foundation’s issue, school choice, the NEA’s Tim Walker wrote “The PISA test can still tell us many things, says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, but the results are certainly not proof that we need to accelerate voucher programs….” Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, declared “…choice and competition actually hasn’t moved the needle.” Nice try. The nation’s largest voucher program, in Indiana, affects around half of the state’s student population. That eligibility pool represents 0.9 percent of America’s total student population. There are 21 smaller voucher programs in only 12 states and Washington, D.C. Do Tim, Dennis, and Randi really believe that school choice on a scale so small could have a fighting chance at moving the needle in terms of national test scores?
One thing’s for sure: PISA scores have sparked the spirit of competition in those on all sides of the education debate, inspiring them to up their game to improve America’s global standing. See, competition in education ain’t so bad after all.