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Posted at 10:40 AM ET, 02/16/2011

Mobile technology and school reform: What’s the connection?

By Valerie Strauss

It was only two months ago that politicians and school reformers were lining up to issue warnings that the performance of American students on the latest international tests were proof that public schools were impairing the country’s ability to compete economically.

That event was the release of the results of the Program for International Student Achievement test, or PISA, tests, given to 15-year-old students by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 65 nations and educational systems. Compared to U.S. students overall, nine had higher average scores in reading, 17 in math, and 12 in science (though U.S. students in low-poverty schools performed extremely high).

This led Education Secretary Arne Duncan to call it a “very serious wake-up call,” and, “Unfortunately, the 2009 PISA results show that American students are poorly prepared to compete in today’s knowledge economy.” Others called it in 21st century Sputnik moment (so translated like this: The city of Shanghai topped the PISA list, and, therefore, China is surpassing us, as Russia supposedly was in 1957 when it launched the first satellite into space, called Sputnik.)

Of course nobody bothered to praise public schools back in the 1990s, when the economy was soaring, but never mind.

With our public schools doing such a lousy job, imagine my surprise when I read this in an article published in the Feb. 12 edition of The Economist:

“In the 1990s, Europe appeared to have beaten even Silicon Valley in mobile technology. European telecoms firms had settled on a single standard for mobile phones. Handsets became affordable, Europe was the biggest market for them and the old continent’s standard took over the world. “Europe was the cradle for innovation and scale in mobile”, says Ameet Shah of PRTM, a management consultancy.

"This changed with the emergence of smartphones, in particular Apple’s iPhone, which appeared in 2007. Nokia still ships a third of all handsets, but Apple astonishingly pulls in more than half of the profits, despite having a market share of barely 4% (see charts, below). More Americans now have smartphones than Europeans. As for standards, Verizon, America’s biggest mobile operator, is leading the world in implementing the next wireless technology, called LTE."

The United States reclaims supremacy in mobile technology, according to the Economist, which isn’t prone to hyperbole.

Besides, William J. Mathis, managing director of the nonprofit National Eduction Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education, wrote recently on this blog that 70 percent of U.S. jobs require only on-the-job training, 10 percent require technical training, and 20 percent require a college education.

He wrote further that while the Obama administration insists that future jobs will require much higher and universal skills, the Washington-based Brookings Institution says that the country’s job structure profile is likely not to change much in the near future, and the proportion of middle skill jobs (plumbers, electricians, health care, police officers, etc.) will remain robust.

Columnist Robert J. Samuelson noted in a recent Post op-ed about the PISA scores:

"The most pessimistic view of the study is that, on average, American schools do as good a job as schools in other wealthy nations. We're worse than some and better than others. The overall loss of economic competitiveness is likely modest and would be swamped by other factors (government policies, business management, exchange rates, the willingness to take risks). But a more detailed evaluation of the study - comparing similar students in different countries - suggests that U.S. schools still rank high in the world."

Further, he said, that America's "economic competitiveness depends on more than good schools, which are important but not decisive."

America’s reclaimed dominance in mobile technology -- and its ability to economically compete -- don't have much to do with international tests, or, for that matter, school reform that is obsessed with measuring schools, students and teachers on standardized tests that weren’t designed for such assessment.

It’s time that our leaders stop saying otherwise.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 16, 2011; 10:40 AM ET
Categories:  Standardized Tests, Technology  | Tags:  arne duncan, education secretary arne duncan, international competitiveness, international tests, mobile technology, pisa, robert j. samuelson, school reform, sputnik, the answer sheet, the economist  
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The fear posed by Washington over college requirements poses two additional problems. Seats in college and defeat among those not making college level education.

If, as Washington screams over college, we require a higher enrollment, that equates to higher completion for ROI. Our current capacity is foolishly built on enrollment and therefore more wasted space (not to mention wasted ceiling space, windows, etc. If we pandered to this train of thoughtlessness, we would be in the middle of building more college space. I have not heard that conversation, but as we can see this is unnecessary.

The worst thing that happens from these chants provides those unable to meet college standards a sense of defeat. Why bother if the President says our workers need a higher education? Why commit if we require a second language to earn a living (a global workforce.) We are telling that 70% they should not expect to succeed. That is unacceptable to our continued success in the global market.

Those plumbers, electricians, and mechanics are rarely, if ever going to be engaged in global processes. We need a reality check and it starts with getting DOLETA more involved with the workforce education and separation from the academic education.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 16, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

It’s time that our leaders stop saying otherwise.
If the political leaders could not pretend that the economy was so dependent upon public education they would be up the creek since they would have to really start thinking about the economy and policies to make it better.

Far better to pretend it all depends upon public education with the pretense that they are doing something about public education. Is it not so convenient for the political leaders that this approach takes years to see any results?

Posted by: bsallamack | February 16, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

The House Committee on Science and Technology June 12, 2007

As Dr. Alan Blinder, one of today’s witnesses testified, these examples seem to be only the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Blinder has estimated that more than one in four American jobs are vulnerable to offshoring. More striking is his finding that most American technical jobs in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are amongst the most vulnerable to offshoring.
The President still has not explained why the public schools and colleges have to teach Americans for the STEM jobs when for years we have been offshoring these jobs to cheap foreign labor.

Thus the President believe that wages will drop lower in the United States than in India?

Posted by: bsallamack | February 16, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

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