Tuesday, November 27, 2007

And You Thought No Child Left Behind Was Bad News!

In his essay, Time To Think Global In Terms Of Testing U.S. Students, Raymond C. Scheppach thinks that we should not only adopt federal standards in education but international ones as well!

He states:
Today, it’s less important how students in Iowa or Oregon compare to those in Alabama or Virginia on a national test. What matters most is how students in North Carolina or Texas compare to those in Denmark or Russia, and so on.

In short, educational protectionism is outdated and ignores the realities of the 21st century global economy.

In the Global Competitiveness Report 2007–2008 released last month by the World Economic Forum, the United States again ranked as the world’s most competitive economy. Yet the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)study, administered in 46 countries, found that U.S. eighth-graders ranked 14th in mathematics achievement. And on the 2003 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, U.S. students placed below average in math, science and problem-solving among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. This is a major concern because the most important factor in competitiveness is education and training of the labor force. Thus, U.S. education performance today is the best indicator of America’s competitiveness tomorrow.

The United States faces significant challenges in the international marketplace not only from Europe but also from rapidly developing countries like China, and India to say nothing of regional innovation centers in Brazil, Eastern Europe and many other parts of the world. The countries that benefit in this new global, entrepreneurial and knowledge-based economy will be those that have the most highly skilled and educated labor force. The United States will witness major reductions in its real wages and real income, and thus our standard of living, if our workforce loses its current competitive edge.

So how do we ensure that our students are prepared to compete in the global economy now and in the future? We must start by adopting the correct conceptual standard.
And who, pray tell, has the "correct conceptual standard"? Who is going to set these "international benchmarks"? Certainly by the looks of what Scheppach claims it won't be the USA since we are lagging behind everyone else in the world according to those tests he mentioned above. So should we be adopting educational practices and standards from China, India, or Brazil? Personally, I don't think so. Otherwise explain to me why all their students come here to do college work and research? I also don't think that those tests mentioned above accurately measure the true intelligence and capability of those countries' populations as a whole. They seem to test only certain portions of their societies, where I believe that we have an overall higher literacy rate and more of our kids actually go on to do college work (God knows they have the loans and debt to prove it!). Perhaps Scheppach thinks a global body such as UNESCO should call the educational shots... now there's a scary thought!

On the other hand, I think as a country, we can do better. We do tend to clutter up our kids' school day with social policy and politically correct dogma as well as other useless mind-numbing nonsense. If we perhaps concentrated more on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, through a real classical education and a thorough understanding of real honest to goodness history based on original documents instead of revisionist or spoon-fed interpretative nonsense, and if we didn't dumb down our curriculum to the point of producing kids needing remedial courses in high school and college, then we might get somewhere in the world of international testing. We certainly could do better in encouraging students to pursue engineering and higher mathematical and scientific studies, but then again we also need craftsmen and plumbers and hairdressers. I'll tell you one thing, I think we still have some of the most creative and brightest minds on the whole, and we have an incredible entrepreneurial spirit as well as a free market capitalist society that offers many incentives to succeed (that is for the time being, until even that is slowly eroded away by the Socialists and other "looters" in this country).

Scheppach believes this:
Over the last two decades, states have provided the leadership to create education standards and assessments. Benchmarking them to international standards is just the next step. Further, most of the expertise necessary to take that next step resides in the states, not the federal government. The existing NCLB framework is helpful, but governors, chief state school officials and legislators understand the urgency of international benchmarking, and they clearly understand the link to competitiveness. They are committed to continuing the momentum toward world-class education systems.
Yes, globalism is here, but the The World Is Flat simply because the cost of labor is so much cheaper elsewhere (like China and India), and because communication is easier and technology is adaptable and available. For sure we need to upgrade and reform our education system, but we certainly should not defer to some other country's set of standards.


Blueberry said...

Oh this is such a good post! I've been to the UNESCO website..........scary stuff!

Crimson Wife said...

There's already a big push for government-run schools to adopt the International Baccalaureate curriculum. I would have no problem with IB if it was just a bunch of exams like the Advanced Placement program. But a student cannot sit for the IB exams unless he/she is enrolled in an approved IB school following the IB-mandated curriculum. These courses go far beyond basic academics to what I would consider blatant political indoctrination.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Isn't it interesting how there is always some global eight-ball that we are behind that is used as an excuse to standardize curriculum more and more narrowly?

And yet, good teaching is still the same good teaching it has always been.

I agree that the tests probably don't measure all of the variables that go into making a country great. Scores, shmores!

What has always made this country great has been the ability of ordinary people to be creative, inventive and independent. Remember good old Yankee ingenuity? These things are not measured on the TIMMS or on any other standardized test.

Dana said...

What gets me is these people's apparent lack of any ability to see past their own agenda.

This apparent "discrepancy" between America's economic power and our test scores has been around for a very long time. At some point, shouldn't we ask why that is?

I think it is one of two things:

A) The tests are not valid. After all, we tend to test all our kids. Other nations do not. Many other nations track their kids much more heavily so it is our average kid competing against their top students.


B) There is something in the American education system or character that is not easily measurable. If we adapt our system to be more like those we test beneath, we may improve our scores and watch our economy suffer.

American culture challenges authority, asks questions and is not afraid of change. Good qualities for business, for leadership, for economic growth. Not so good for sitting down and memorizing facts for a standardized test.

Singapore, the one that aces these dumb tests, is examining our education system to try to see how they can compete in the real world and not just on tests.

Irdial said...

Otherwise explain to me why all their students come here to do college work and research?

People want to come to america for higher education because no one, especially in science, does it better. There is only one MIT for example, and out of that, you can build a great career. Labs in american universities are better equipped, the relationships with industry are tighter and all in all, you are better off getting in to one of these places, especially if you are going for science / technology.

My limited exposure to american school testing has been to the multiple choice examinations that they used to run in the 70's. In the UK, testing is more about essay writing (for english) and in maths showing your working is as valuable as the answer; if you get the final answer wrong but all your working is correct, you get the marks. I never saw a multiple choice paper of any kind in all my days in British schools and till today, in all the text books that I see for 8 to §5 year olds, not a single one of them uses multiple choice for answering. This is significant. Multiple choice doesn't promote thinking, in my limited world view. But this does not explain why americans do so well at being dynamic individuals. The answer for that lies in what was taught in american schools.

American schools that had 'social studies' classes where the principles of the foundation of the country were taught was the thing, in my opinion, that made americans better than any other nationality in terms of determination, self belief, and their philosophical position with regards to government. The greatness of americans that came out of that era flowed from those understandings; The Constitution, The Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers and the revolution, when put into a context that shows they apply to you personally, makes you a strong person, disinclined to slavery and slave thinking, independent minded and able to make the country a great place to live.

Europeans and others do not have this grounding. That is why they have had and continue to have less dynamic populations, where that essential self belief is missing, crippling their economies and draining their lands of their best minds. Any brit with half a brain and some money has already left for the more positive, individualist shores of america and Australia.

Sadly, and increasingly, americans do not seem to understand just what sort of country they were born into. We see examples of this everywhere; Bush being elected for a SECOND TIME after he lied to the country (can you imagine the electorate of the 1970's electing Nixon twice? it is unthinkable, and yet, this is precisely what happened with G.W. Bush) - and we are beginning to see the effects of this. Educated people saying they would sell or give up their vote for money. Educated people repeating the blatant propaganda pumped out by Fox news while the truth is only a key-press away on the internet. Thick as molasses americans applauding Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and the insane warmonger John McCain at clearly scripted and biased 'debates'. Americans who cannot find their own country on a map. something has gone terribly wrong with american education, and it needs to be fixed on an urgent basis.

Nothing in this world is static, and if there is a need to change the system of examination (for example) in the USA then it needs to be addressed. Home Schooling is one such seismic shift to the benefit of millions. One thing is for sure; if no one steps up and revamps the examination system in the US, someone is going to do it for you wether you like the shape it takes or not.

In the UK we are having a crisis in confidence in the exam system as the number of people passing becomes statistically impossible; someone must fail an exam in order for it to be a useful measure of achievement (if you take as gospel exams as a legitimate way of measuring people..but that topic is for another comment). If too many people are getting 'A' grades, this means that the exam is flawed in some way, in our case, the suspicion is that they are dumbing down the tests to make them easier to get more satisfied pupils and better league table results for schools.

What has been suggested is that new examination boards should be created where the standards are more rigorous, so that an 'A' grade means you really do have an exceptional student. Perhaps in the USA someone needs to address this problem, set up an independent home grown examination board where the standards are recognizable on an international level as being the best in the world to prevent the French style IB from getting their foot in the door.

Like I keep saying on Blogdial, america is one of the few countries that has the ability to get itself out of a rut and return to the right path. I believe this is true on any scale.

Judy Aron said...

I agree Irdial - Sadly, as I was at MIT a few weekends ago - I am seeing how MIT is even getting watered down. In order to attract more students it is also watering down it's curriculum and expanding it's course offerings into "the arts". They had an exhibit showing the history of MIT and how the school has changed over the years. The last portion of the exhibit showed what MIT is today, that it has performing arts and so on. It seems that while they do accomplish cutting edge research types of things (now in robotics and genetics and green technologies) they are slightly straying away from the scientific focus that they are so well known for - and simply because they may be having a harder time filling seats with Americans who are up to par with the type of background that is required. Also there are other much more inexpensive schools that can offer an equally rigorous curriculum when it comes to the sciences and are also quite selective as well. Boston University and Northeast are two very fine schools that do an incredible amount of government research. MIT is not the only game in town, and is surviving on its name recognition (in my opinion).