Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 5:30 AM ET, 02/11/2011

The myth of declining U.S. schools: They've long been mediocre

By Jay Mathews

"U.S. students, who once led the world, currently rank 21st in the world in science and 25th in math," Newsweek reported in September. I hear that a lot. Politicians and business leaders often bemoan the decline of American education compared to the rest of the world. We are doomed, they say, unless we [fill in here the latest plan to save the country.]

So I was surprised to find, in the latest report by the wonderfully contrarian Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, that the notion of America on the downward track is a myth. The data show that we have been mediocre all along, as far back as 1964. If anything, we have lately been showing some signs of improvement.

Loveless, senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, says in his annual report on American Education:

"The United States never led the world. It was never number one and has never been close to number one on international math tests. Or on science tests, for that matter. It is more accurate to say that the United States has always trailed the world on math tests."

Among the comments on the latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in December, which showed some U.S. gains, was this from Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia: "The good news is that the free-fall seems to have stopped--and it was a free-fall for a while."

Loveless says no. "There was no sharp decline--in either the short or long run," he says. "The U.S. performance on PISA has been flat to slightly up since the test's inception, and it has improved on TIMSS [the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, another major series of tests] since 1995."

This is not exactly good news, but context is important. If we have managed to be the world's most powerful country, politically, economically and militarily, for the last 47 years despite our less than impressive math and science scores, maybe that flaw is not as important as film documentaries and political party platforms claim. And if, after so many decades of being shown up by much of the rest of the developed world, we are improving, it might be time to be more supportive of what we already doing to fix our schools.

Loveless is one of the nation's leading experts on PISA and TIMSS. He has been part of the cohorts of specialists who advise those programs. In his report he says the first international test comparable to those two was the First International Math Study (FIMS) in 1964. It assessed 13-year-olds in 12 countries. The United States placed next to last, just ahead of Sweden.

We were beaten by Israel, Japan, Belgium, Finland, Germany, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and Australia, in that order. Other age groups were tested with similarly disappointing results for the United States.

In the latest PISA and TIMSS tests, the United States did better, scoring in the middle of the pack. On PISA, the United States was up 5 points in reading, 13 points in math and 13 points in science. If we maintain that pace, Loveless says, we will boost the U.S. gross domestic product by at least $41 trillion in the next 20 years, according to an analysis of PISA results by Stanford University economist Eric A. Hanushek.

Loveless, a former teacher, cannot resist tarnishing the shiny reputations of our most celebrated international competitors, while he is on the subject. He declares that the often-heard assumption that Finland has the best educational system in the world, with India and China coming on strong, also is a myth.

This blogger has been dumping on the strength of the Chinese and Indian school systems for a long time. Loveless agrees that they are very large, very poor countries that are so ill-equipped for international tests that they have never participated in them as countries. Shanghai scored number one on the latest PISA, but that is no indicator of how China would do.

"Shanghai's municipal website reports that 83.8 percent of high school graduates enter college," Loveless says. "The national figure is 24 percent." The American figure is about 66 percent.

Loveless is less dismissive of Finland, which has been scoring well for several years. But he says Americans who love the Finnish model of paying teachers higher salaries, decentralizing authority over educational decisions and eschewing high-stakes standardized testing should tune into the debate the Finns are having about their schools.

Finnish children were doing well on international tests before those reforms were adopted. That suggests that cultural and societal factors might be the more likely reason for their success. Many Finnish mathematicians say that the country is catering too much to PISA, which emphasizes word problems and practical applications of math, and neglecting to prepare students for college math.

Loveless says more than 200 university mathematicians in Finland petitioned the education ministry to complain of students increasingly arriving in their classrooms poorly prepared. "Knowledge of fractions and algebra were singled out as particularly weak areas," Loveless says.

Everyone has problems, even the much-admired Chinese, Indians and Finns. American schools seem to have absorbed the message that our students have the capacity to achieve more than we have asked them to do. Support for better and more focused math and science courses is increasing.

We should stop talking about some golden age of schooling that never existed, and instead look for ways to create one. But no one should expect that is going to happen quickly, or without controversy.

By Jay Mathews  | February 11, 2011; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  American student scores have not declined, China and Indian way behind, Finland not so good, PISA, TIMSS, Tom Loveless  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The amazing Harriett Ball
Next: Five ways Rhee went wrong

Comments

Jay, yesterday you wrote,
"It does not seem to have sunk in, but I still believe it, and do not see any evidence that Rhee intentionally misled anyone. But as we see, Rhee's folk are slamming me now. Will the anti-Rhee faction welcome me as a comrade in arms?"

Yes. Come on over.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7-an30xLS8

Posted by: mport84 | February 11, 2011 6:05 AM | Report abuse

Jay, you have written an exceptional message! You know what, I think you are finally getting it! Your message has been shares with hundreds of other educative. Thanks for being intellectually curious and flexible.

Posted by: lacy41 | February 11, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Jay, thank you for blogging this. International comparisons offer a lot of insight, even if in ways that aren't immediately obvious.

I hope your commenters don't turn this into an all-Rhee, all-the-time blog, because some of the other issues you write about are much more interesting.

Posted by: hainish | February 11, 2011 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Richard Whitmire is quite critical of the Post Metro coverage of DCPS/Rhee. Too much chatter, not enough facts. Any chance the WP will get back to substance, and not just the politics on DCPS? The Post's 2007 "Fixing DC's Schools" investigative report was excellent journalism, and should have been updated. Is that type of newsgathering a thing of past at the Post?

Posted by: frankb1 | February 11, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

As I have listened to the rhetoric over the past years, and observed it intensify since NCLB and its stepchild, RttT, I have found it curious that the validity of these international tests is so infrequently questioned. The alarmists appear to take this for granted.

Perhaps we have been building on quicksand and we have invested thousands of hours and billions of $$ into programs that are doomed because they were unsound from their inception.

Teacher's unions have tried to speak up, however they are branded "obstructionist" when they fail to embrace the latest scheme the CEOs and economists, who masquerade as education specialists, attempt to mandate. Folks, do you need more evidence than the current economic meltdown to indict many of these same folks? Do we really believe they have our best interests at heart?

Concerning Shanghai, an interesting tidbit was reported in National Geographic a year or two ago, though it was easy to miss. Apparently there are numerous low-level workers in Shanghai who have arrived from rural, semi-rural or provincial areas seeking work. These folks are not legal residents of Shanghai, and so their children are NOT entitled to a free public education in Shanghai, they are only entitled to this in their town or province of legal residence.

Caring people try to set up unofficial schools to teach the children of these "migrant workers," but they exist outside of the school system. We simply have no way of knowing how many children of impoverished migrant workers in Shanghai are not being properly educated and are therefore, never tested. It could be substantial.

This might be akin to American schools only testing the children of folks who are prosperous enough to own their own homes. I suggest that comparing our students' test scores to those released for Shanghai may be very misleading, and more importantly, the tests themselves have never been shown to predict later success and prosperity, so why waste all the money that could be put to productive uses elsewhere?

Posted by: silverstarent2003 | February 11, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

For frankb1---Our coverage of DC schools has been affected, as Whitmire's book notes, by the need to cover the rather extraordinary political events related to schools in the last few years. We have also lost a few reporting slots. But our education editor Craig Timberg has been authorized to hire more people as the newspaper's finances have stabilized and washingtonpost.com has thrived. Expect more and better coverage, and if you don't think you are getting it, let us and me know.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 11, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Well the white wash is in with the "reporting" of the Washington Post.

The Washington Post article "Rhee faces renewed scrutiny over depiction of students' progress when she taught" is not reporting but a white wash.

No mention that the claims of Ms. Rhee on her resume were challenged during the hiring process in 2007 as indicated by the Washington Post article of 2007 "Council to Challenge Rhee's Résumé".

No mention that the public hearing in 2007 specifically questioned the validity of claims in the resume of Ms. Rhee that are now shown to be incorrect.

From the hearing in 2007:
"This is somewhat of an unconventional appointment," Gray said. "She's basing a lot of her fitness on her experience in the classroom and her recruitment of teachers. . . . If you say something, you should be able to back it up."

No mention in the article of how important to Ms. Rhee were the claims in the resume in 2007 which Ms. Rhee now says were incorrect and should be revised without the claims that were questioned in 2007.

The reality is that the claims made by Ms. Rhee on her resume were incorrect as indicated by the newly discovered test scores.

Ms. Rhee would never have obtained her position in 2007 if in 2007 at the public hearing she would have admitted as she does now that the claims made in her resume were incorrect.

But the Washington Post is only interested in a white wash.

The whitewash on Ms. Rhee tells us the "On Wednesday evening, Rhee said" without giving details on who Ms. Rhee spoke to or any details of this conversation.

Apparently to the Washington Post reporting is simply selecting bits and pieces of a conversation and not providing readers with information on who was spoken to or the context of a conversation.

The Washington Post provides no information in regard to questions that Ms. Rhee was responding to, or even who was responding to.

Even on the worse interview show on TV the audience is aware of the questions and who is carrying on a conversation.

Never mind what was said, or even to who she spoke to, simply pick bits and pieces that you want for the white wash.

Imagine if the Washington Post had news articles where readers were simply told what political leaders said without any information regarding questions that these political leaders were asked or even why these questions were being asked. Would the Washington Post call this reporting.

It is interesting that by giving no information on the conversation that Ms. Rhee with some unknown person there is no possibility for another reporter to verify the "information" in this article.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 10:49 AM | Report abuse

thanks to hainish and lacy41 for the kind comments. I appreciate silverstarent2003's erudition on what is really happening with education in China. If you click on the link in this piece on my "dumping on the strength of the Chinese and Indian school systems" you will find my report on a recent book that revealed those flaws in an unusually detailed way.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 11, 2011 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I think the myth may have been useful at times to education. Most people who aren't parents aren't really that interested in education. But when it is a case of international competition it sounds more urgent and something is done about it. (What is done is not always helpful however)

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 11, 2011 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I cannot refrain from including some commentary regarding the placing of city school systems under mayoral control, which is a mean-spirited, anti-democratic process, and one that Arne Duncan endorses.

There is an accelerating trend in this country to decrease citizen and voter input and control over public institutions that concern them, and which are funded with their tax dollars.

Mayors appoint the school chancellor and their school boards to fulfill their, oftentimes, ill-advised visions. This is not the m.o. in a democratic republic. I can think of circumstances where this, however, is the norm. So can you.

Posted by: silverstarent2003 | February 11, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Rhee faces renewed scrutiny over depiction of students' progress when she taught
Gallery
By Nick Anderson, Washington Post

When the title show be "Rhee Admits To Incorrect Claim In 2007".

If someone states that past statements were incorrect with new evidence that might prove the statements were incorrect, the title should reflect that.

At issue is a line in Rhee's resume from that year that described her record at Harlem Park Elementary School: "Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher."

On Wednesday evening, Rhee said she would revise that wording if she could. "If I were to put my resume forward again, would I say 'significant' gains?" Rhee said. "Absolutely."

The new resume of Ms. Rhee:
Over a two-year period, moved students to significant gains on national standardized tests.
......................

Is Jay Mathews going to admit that he is the "deep throat" that Ms. Rhee spoke to on Wednesday night?

Perhaps then readers will actually be told what was said on Wednesday night.

But of course perhaps Mr. Mathews and the Washington Post would rather do spin instead of actually reporting on what was said in the conversation of Wednesday night.

Yes Mr. Mathews we know that you are a columnist and not a reporter, but even columnists should be able to state what actually was said in a conversation. Or does being a columnist mean one no longer has normal memory functions?

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

"Mediocre" means test scores. If the U.S. never had a golden age of education or schooling as Mr. Mathews is claiming based on test scores starting in1964, why were there successful Americans who knew enough about math to start their own businesses with just an 8th grade education? Having a college degree was impressive at one time because high school diplomas were worth more. Now jobs that really shouldn't require college degrees, require them as a way for HR recruiters to filter, and colleges to make money. I still think kids started to do more drugs in the 60s and 70s, more divorces, Vietnam, guys getting married or staying in college to avoid the draft, a lot of factors played a role in the decline of education in the U.S.

Posted by: dcsmartie | February 11, 2011 12:48 PM | Report abuse

This is a great article, Jay.

By the way, I know a lot of people from India (which I am sure you do also). They tell me they prefer American education because it is comprehension based, whereas in India it is memorization based. Their only complaint is that their children do not get enough homework.

Posted by: resc | February 11, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I too have my doubts as to the causal relationship between a country's rankings in these international tests of high school students and the future rate of a country's future economic development (i.e., GDP growth). Even assuming these tests are fair and representative, at best the linkage to economic activity is weak for large economies like the U.S. Maybe for smaller countries the linkage is much stronger?

A stronger linkage to economic activity is the training that students pursue after high school relative to the spectrum of jobs available. And job openings are dependent on many factors.

Certainly the economy does not perform as well as it could if many high paying jobs go unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. However, the opposite case could also be true (and is in some countries): an economy won't grow as fast if there are many qualified applicants and not enough jobs for them.

About the most one can say about these international tests is that it gives SOME indication of how prepared - on average - are a country's high school graduates to take on all manner of post high school training/education. The more prepared the better given that persons will naturally want to land better paying jobs rather than being relegated to lower paying jobs.

But still, better paying jobs have to be available and students have to know about them in order to make the best decisions for themselves and to maximize a country's economic growth.

Posted by: fairfaxvaguy | February 11, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

dcs, I suspect the differences are many, but we develop citizens whereas others develop trainees. By that I mean we do not just develop pointed classes and specific information as much as we try and provide ideas and possibilities.

That was my issue in a few other posts today. Everyone wants better students. I say we need better citizens. What we are teaching and what kids are learning is not wrong. Could it be more? Maybe! But at what expense.

Does it seem just unkind that many college graduates from abroad cannot function compared to our grads? It is not just the language. It is the amount of learning and the sense of learning for knowledge instead of learning for more learning.

I have long thought Jay's line of reasoning here was more realistic, as the writer, than some grand issue. I might be mistaken, but mandatory high school was only recently enacted in the U.S. Mandatory schooling has only been enforced since AFTER the Revolutionary War. A relatively short period yet we have more going on than nearly all other nations on earth.

Time we looked at the glass as half-full!

Posted by: jbeeler | February 11, 2011 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews -Thanks so much for the reply. That's really exciting news, I'll definitely keep reading.

That book should have been written by a WP reporter. I'm a bit surprised it's gotten so little attention from the Post.

Posted by: frankb1 | February 11, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

@bsallamack: the Rhee story is a big deal (and the Post's coverage is certainly open to debate) but I'm not sure it comes off right to blow it up in this particular story thread...

Posted by: joshofstl1 | February 11, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

@bsallamack: the Rhee story is a big deal (and the Post's coverage is certainly open to debate) but I'm not sure it comes off right to blow it up in this particular story thread...

Posted by: joshofstl1
..............................................
I agree with you but unfortuneatly neither Jay Mathews or the Washington Post will release information about what went on.

Mr. Mathews wrote a column indicating he spoke to Ms. Rhee but gives no indication of when he spoke to her.

Then we get an article of the Washington Post claiming that Ms. Rhee said something on Wednesday giving no indication of who she spoke to.

Mr. Mathews wrote this week:
Rhee told me that her information about huge gains in her students' scores came from her principal at the time. She had no data to back it up, but went with the best information she had, her memory, when asked how her students did.

Mr. Mathews did not indicate whether this was after the existence of evidence was revealed about her claims in 2007 or at an earlier time.

The reality is that if Mr. Mathews spoke to Ms. Rhee regarding the new evidence he should inform the readers about this.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

For joshofstl1

..............................
The data show that we have been mediocre all along, as far back as 1964.
..............................

What data? The reality is that since 1964 there has not been any recognized data to indicate on a country level who is behind or who is ahead in public education.

At different points in time the supposedly experts pick some new test in order to make the latest claims on who is number 1.

Supposedly if a nation with a 50 percent literacy rate scores highest on these super tests that indicates that country has the best public educational system in the world. Little joy to the 50 percent who can not even read that their country has won this distinction.

Let us totally forget about the World Cup in public education.

There is enough data available on national tests to indicate whether public education is improving or not improving.

Yes this data is not from super tests but the reading and math tests for the 4th and 8th grade which can indicate a great deal public education in the United States.

Has there been increases or decreases in the number of students that score advanced skill?

There are years of this data that could indicate the health of public education in America.

Time to get over the nonsense of bragging rights.

The only thing that matters in regard to public education in the United States is whether it is improving or not, and we have the test data to indicate that.

Time for the government to analyze the data it has and release this to the public.

By the way my guess is that if a study of these tests was released there would be evidence of stagnation in the numbers of those scoring advanced skills.

It always amuses me when the political leaders and business leaders want public education to produce students with advanced skills while the educational policy of the nation is No Child That Is Not Proficient.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Yes Mr. Mathews we know that you are a columnist and not a reporter, but even columnists should be able to state what actually was said in a conversation. Or does being a columnist mean one no longer has normal memory functions?
Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 12:20 PM | Report abuse

ballamack, YOU ARE EITHER AN IDIOT OR A PLANT. I find your comments to be utterly meaningless and totally worthless.

Jay, you rock!

Posted by: lacy41 | February 11, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I like Jay and bsallamack. Jay doesn't have to answer him, but, bsallamack has a right to ask questions. He is correct about the history of the whole thing.

Posted by: georgia198305 | February 11, 2011 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I am not sure I understand what bsallamack is talking about, but my conversation with Rhee was Thursday afternoon, not Wed night. She called me home after trying to reach me a couple days before when her office put out their statement.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 11, 2011 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I see a lot of very smart posts here, by the way. Thank you and have great weekends. I am about to post something short about how our edlharris got his scoop, and was scooped himself by Jeff Steele.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 11, 2011 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I am not sure I understand what bsallamack is talking about, but my conversation with Rhee was Thursday afternoon, not Wed night. She called me home after trying to reach me a couple days before when her office put out their statement.

Posted by: Jay Mathews
.................................
The Washington Post article stated:
On Wednesday evening, Rhee said she would revise that wording if she could. "If I were to put my resume forward again, would I say 'significant' gains?" Rhee said. "Absolutely."

My question to you was whether you were the one Ms. Rhee said the above to.

If you are not the one who Ms. Rhee said the above to, a simple no will suffice. By the way the reporter may have made a mistake about the day of the week.

There should not be any problem for you to answer the questions that were in regard to your actual article.

You wrote this week:
Rhee told me that her information about huge gains in her students' scores came from her principal at the time. She had no data to back it up, but went with the best information she had, her memory, when asked how her students did.

The question was when you were told this by Ms. Rhee.

This is rather straight forward and you should be able to answer this question.

Have a nice weekend.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Context has long been absent from the education reform debate. Even your column today lacks context. You suggest -- and I would say wrongly -- that something we're doing now is actually spurring meaningful improvements, yet you have to admit that the improvements measured may be too small to matter or bother to replicate.

Anyone who teaches and/or has children in the system knows that solid, challenging curriculum is still lacking and would-be reformers are too focused on methodology. It's all form over function, and our children lose when the adults in the room aren't focused on imparting the collective knowledge of a people -- the real task of education anywhere at any time.

Such assertions about the effects -- positive or negative -- of recent reforms require context, too, Jay. You are, in part, responsible for tooting the horn on behalf of the now disgraced (no surprise) Michelle Rhee and KIPP, which is also showing signs of a truth less compelling than its advocates would have the public believe. These reformers are ideologues and a great reporter would be digging deep to find out who is funding them and why.

Where initiatives like small schools and charter schools work, it is because these schools have been given basic supplies (an adequate number of up-to-date textbooks, for starters) and better managed facilities as well as a more selective staff so that at the very least, there aren't absolute idiots in the classroom. Yes, context is what the public, as well as reformers claiming to act on behalf of the public, need and it is invariably missing from any news stories on education. That lack of context is an indictment of the journalists who cover this important subject, including you.

Posted by: Jennifer88 | February 11, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer88: I really appreciate your comments. The focus on pedagogy in my school is about 95% during professional developments sessions and even discussions with colleagues. Hardly any focus on current scientific research, history, economics, the beauty of math and language, etc. Its so weird to me.

Also, you nailed it. Rhee, Henderson, Kamras and their lackeys are all idealogues from what I can tell. They are convinced that their ideas are rock solid in all contexts for all schools in all neighborhoods. They are driving most of the teaching corps crazy as they force their ideologies on a highly educated group of educators. I even sent Jay Mattews a scholarly paper on the topic, but to my knowledge he has never written about it. He upheld MR as an exemplar of reform and he even stated that her ability to stress out educators is a good thing. At the same time, he holds up Rafe Esquith as an exemplar of the classroom teacher. Rafe is a big critic of testing and the value-added approach. Despite this disconnect, I think all three of the Post bloggers/reporters/columnists serve an important democratic function: the free exchange of ideas and debate.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | February 11, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Many people need to believe our educational system is poor because they need an excuse to cover up their absolute ignorance on the subject. Other people crave the belief that our educational system is poor because it provides them with a way to make a profit regardless of whether their product is worthwhile or not. This includes the testing, textbook, and remedial industries. Still other people desire that our educational system be seen as poor because it justifies their failures when they were in school. Actually, many of those who post on this and similar sites appear to have more on their minds than the real issues of education. And then there are the people who take advantage of the ignorant, the profiteers, and those who just don’t like anything to do with education. These people place themselves in a position of authority without the most basic understanding of human growth and development.

It is time that everyone backed up from the educational crisis con game and took a minute to think. They need to think about the millions, if not billions of dollars that have been wasted over the last 30 years trying to solve a specious problem. They need to think about who is profiting from such obvious dishonesty, and they need to think about who continues to be trampled in the process. Michelle Rhee actually represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to frauds. We are all invited to that party!

Posted by: jdman2 | February 11, 2011 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we do put too much emphasis in science and math ability, because the true failure in today's ElHi education system is in not teaching our students how to engage in didactic writing. My wife works for a government research institution, generating political papers for congress, and she is forever complaining about interns, with diplomas which falsely testified to their erudition.
To read their biographies, many of our great scientists achieved their level of knowledge despite their schooling, either on their own, or with the tutoring of a mentor who recognized their genius. I think good didactic writers learn by doing, and if high school English and Civics teachers aren't willing to spend the time it takes to teach basic writing skills, then our real education problems are not going to be fixed. The US will continue to be a great nation with 1% or 2% of the population as top scientists, but we will be in a world of hurt if its writing skills dip to that level. Even scientists won't get very far if they can't put their ideas into words.
John Dickert
Mount Vernon Farms

Posted by: 12191946 | February 11, 2011 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer88: I really appreciate your comments. The focus on pedagogy in my school is about 95% during professional developments sessions and even discussions with colleagues. Hardly any focus on current scientific research, history, economics, the beauty of math and language, etc. Its so weird to me.
Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork
................
Really interesting since I can now understand that teaching has become a process where supposedly one can define all the steps involved so that a student learns.

This is insanity but I can see it flowing from the quakes and charlatans that collectively be called the reformers.

The reality is that students are now not learning. The intelligent students memorize what is needed to pass a test and then totally forget what they memorized. This is no different than what a dog that can perform a trick does. This also explains why 6 months after passing a course they have to go through the process of memorizing what has been forgotten.

The charlatans are calling for more meaningless standardized testing while national reading test indicate that 33 percent of all students can not read according to the 4th grade while 25 percent of all students can not read by the 8th grade.

Meanwhile teachers are supposed to teach these students who will measured on a test that requires reading.

The reality is that since 2001 and NCLB the environment for learning has deteriorated in public schools with the pretense that every child will be made proficient.

It appears that at some point this nation lost the ability to think.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer88: I really appreciate your comments. The focus on pedagogy in my school is about 95% during professional developments sessions and even discussions with colleagues. Hardly any focus on current scientific research, history, economics, the beauty of math and language, etc. Its so weird to me.
Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork
................
Really interesting since I can now understand that teaching has become a process where supposedly one can define all the steps involved so that a student learns.

This is insanity but I can see it flowing from the quakes and charlatans that collectively be called the reformers.

The reality is that students are now not learning. The intelligent students memorize what is needed to pass a test and then totally forget what they memorized. This is no different than what a dog that can perform a trick does. This also explains why 6 months after passing a course they have to go through the process of memorizing what has been forgotten.

The charlatans are calling for more meaningless standardized testing while national reading test indicate that 33 percent of all students can not read according to the 4th grade while 25 percent of all students can not read by the 8th grade.

Meanwhile teachers are supposed to teach these students who will measured on a test that requires reading.

The reality is that since 2001 and NCLB the environment for learning has deteriorated in public schools with the pretense that every child will be made proficient.

It appears that at some point this nation lost the ability to think.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I think good didactic writers learn by doing, and if high school English and Civics teachers aren't willing to spend the time it takes to teach basic writing skills, then our real education problems are not going to be fixed.
Posted by: 12191946
...........................
If Americans understood the changes in public education since 2001 with NCLB, they would understand that teachers are no longer teaching. That is not their job. Their function is instead to prepare students to pass local standardized tests. In math logic is not taught or the subtleties o mathematics.

Given that writing skills are not tested by local standardized tests it is not surprising that not much effort is placed upon writing. It is also interesting that a writer requires reading skills.

The job of teachers is not greatly expand the skills of students in reading but to simply to ensure that every student has the reading capability to read at their grade level so they can pass local standardized tests.

If an English teacher has a class with 5 students that can not read and 20 students that can read then that teachers has to focus their time and effort on the 5 students that can not read. Any teacher that does not do this will probably find themselves without a job.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 10:12 PM | Report abuse

It is time that everyone backed up from the educational crisis con game and took a minute to think.
Posted by: jdman2
......................
I agree with you but I think there is a crisis in public education.

This is the crisis that the charlatans for 10 years have created.

Prior to 2001 our public education system was sound but that system has been disappearing daily from the changes wrought by belief in the charlatans.

The reality is when you even give lip service to the charlatans and their views it creates a slight change. Slight changes over 10 years accumulate.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 11, 2011 10:20 PM | Report abuse

The reality is when you even give lip service to the charlatans and their views it creates a slight change. Slight changes over 10 years accumulate.
Posted by: bsallamack
-----------
The educational quacks, charlatans, and politicians have been in control for the last 30 years and the ONLY change has been to muddy the definition of what education is supposed to be. What a tragic waste of time, money, and teachers!

Posted by: jdman2 | February 12, 2011 9:16 AM | Report abuse

The educational quacks, charlatans, and politicians have been in control for the last 30 years and the ONLY change has been to muddy the definition of what education is supposed to be. What a tragic waste of time, money, and teachers!

Posted by: jdman2
..................
Yes but NCLB in 2001 was destruction of public education on the national level.

NCLB would disappear overnight if middle class Americans with children understood that the absurdity of NCLB is damaging the education of their children.

The education of their children has been changed to a system of meaningless state standardized testing where the focus in classrooms is the lowest common denominator.

Middle class parents do not recognize that the ideal that grows out of NCLB is to turn class room instruction into prep for taking tests. Middle class parent do not realize that their schools are effected by NCLB even though their schools are not poverty schools.

Prep for the SAT or ACT is not a problem since it is done at the end of the educational process and is a one time thing.

But now with NCLB the approved teaching method is a system of prep for test. Learning is not important since the only measure is passing standardized tests. There really should be no surprise that instruction in class rooms is focused on prep for the tests when teachers will be fired on the basis of test scores.

Look at Massachusetts which in the past on national tests rank usually highest in the nation on national tests. Massachusetts has a great curriculum but with the charlatans was forced to change it's curriculum to the inferior Common Core Standards.

Look at New York State which was a state with standardized testing before NCLB. Last year New York State honestly admitted that their tests had been watered down and were worthless.

This is the model for public education in the United States, a lower curriculum, watered down standardized tests, and instruction in classroom totally focused to prep for these watered down tests.

And then there is the absurdity of those who look to the public education system of China. No recognition by Americans that the Chinese simply use standardized testing to remove those from educational consideration that can not pass these tests. In a nations of billions the Chinese can not be concerned with those that can not learn and fall at the wayside.

Besides the Chinese government is recognizing the need to shift away from standardized testing since it prevents what we in the United States call critical thinking.

In a few years the Chinese government will lessen standardized testing in the upper grades. Standardized testing will still be used to remove from the system those that can not learn early in the educational process and so will not be needed later so that an emphasis will be placed upon critical thinking.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 12, 2011 11:06 AM | Report abuse

By the way I recently discovered something I was never aware of.

Ms. Rhee really never taught in a public school.

"From 1992 to 1995, Rhee taught at Baltimore's Harlem Park Elementary, one of the worst-performing schools in the city and among nine schools run by a private company, Education Alternatives. During her first year there, she taught second grade. In her final two years there, she received approval to teach the same group of students in second and third grades."

Council to Challenge Rhee's Résumé

So the reality is that Ms. Rhee never actually worked in a public school.

This probably explains why the test score of the students of Ms. Rhee could not be found in 2007 since the school was not a public school, and was not responsible to follow for state requirements for public schools.

The article also reveals that the teaching environment of Ms. Rhee was far different from public schools.

Ms. Rhee jointly taught with another teacher the combined class of third grade students.

Also Ms. Rhee, who was inexperienced herself, was assigned a teaching intern.

By the way the 2007 resume of Ms. Rhee gives no indication that her experience was at an experimental school and not a public school, or that she was an employee of the private firm Education Alternatives, and not an employee of the city of Baltimore.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 12, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Bsallamack, pay attention to the rest of the brand name of the school contractor Rhee worked for: Edison. A lot of connections click into place with that, and I'm still tracking it down.

I was paying attention to the Edison experiment in Baltimore at that time, because a close friend got recruited by them, and in fact taught second grade during that period. It was awful - the other teachers quit; there was nobody left on her floor but her eventually, and she couldn't even maintain crowd control. I don't think it was Harlem Park, but I'm going to call her later and see what she remembers, through the haze of post traumatic shock she went through.

Two things about the newly revealed data set stand out to me, and they bear on this current column's question about what tests really reveal (or hide).

Somehow Harlem Park started that year with a class cohort which had dropped to the 13th percentile, after previous years had been in the forties. Then, the first test cohort was 88 students, and that was cut in half by the final test, which more or less brought the cohort survivors back up to background score levels. Did somebody drop a bomb on the school in Edison's first year, just before Rhee's timely rescue? And what happened to half the kids?

That pattern points to two cynical score-manipulation strategies I've seen in action. Insiders with the state DOE told my district administrators to lowball the first administration of our state tests, to show more dramatic improvement later when pet intervention products were tested. And then, of course, the fall-off in class size between ninth and tenth grade suddenly gaped open in low-scoring districts across the state, although it was impolite to speak of it at the DOE.

So, the administrators for corporate education reform have a stake in claiming success, and Rhee's for-profit principal wasn't ever a credible witness for the project's performance.
http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=27899

Posted by: mport84 | February 12, 2011 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Jay says: "If we have managed to be the world's most powerful country, politically, economically and militarily, for the last 47 years despite our less than impressive math and science scores, maybe that flaw is not as important as [many] claim."

Is the country's political, economic, and military might really the correct measure by which to judge?

Is education for the sake of having a knowledgeable citizenry really so passe?

Posted by: hainish | February 13, 2011 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Personally I don't give a hoot about how our
K-12 performs on tests whose authors (and corporations who rake in the bucks) claim they measure something that even the acronym SAT no longer claims to be measuring.

What I care deeply about is the fact that our college students appear as the the proverbial Bozo the Clown when compared to the college students in our cohort of nations (i.e., the OECD).

I'm willing to bet that most universities in the US are really 4 more years of high school (my own U. included).

It's very difficult to convey the shallowness of our college kids which coupled to the financial difficulties of the last 10 years is driving our undergraduate college education into the ground. And it is inevitable that graduate education will be affected too given the media obsession with "advanced" degrees as a way to (even) get a job.

Posted by: youngWaPoreader | February 13, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

If you are going to call something a myth you'd better have some really convincing evidence to back up your contention, and this Brookings study doesn't even come close. The study clearly understands the use of statistical controls, since it uses some questionable ones when they are needed to support its point of view, but then leaves them completely out when the results would probably debunk their point of view. A real "myth" that Part I of this study rests on is that most westernized countries have had universal enforced compulsory public education, similar to what has been in place in the U.S. for decades, as long as the U.S. has. The fact of the matter is that up through at least the end of the 1970's most of the countries of the world other than the U.S. were extremely lax in their enforcement of compulsory education laws, if there were any. Even in the U.S. I think people would have been shocked in the 1960's if they knew how many children who by law should have been attending school weren't. For this study to have even the veneer of validity it would have to control for school participation rate. On the whole this study manipulates the facts in unwarranted ways to support its point of view.
A lot of times just looking around you and using some common sense is more useful than all the politically motivated "research" in the world. Theres no doubt in my mind that the teachers unions in this country are in some way at least in part behind this study. NONE. The schools in this country are declining relative to the rest of the world. That is not a myth. Where this relative decline has been the worst is in the schools serving our poor, urban, and minority children. That is not a myth. A big part of the decline is a result of teachers unions protecting incompetent teachers and school administrators refusing to give adequate support to schools serving these types of students. That is not a myth.

Posted by: david_r_fry | February 13, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

Tom Loveless is a great read any time. But the thing about US quality is worse than it used to be not because US schools are getting worse, but because (a) they are getting more expensive, and (b) other countries' schools are getting better. We are pouring more and more money into our schools over time, and the results are flat. The US and the UK are the only two systems whose "educational output per dollar" are falling so fast -- in part, because they are the only two systems that insist that new money go to things that don't matter.

SilverStarent2003,

The thing about mayoral control is that it's like Churchill's quote about democracy -- the worst system except all the others. School board control is massively worse, because school board elections have consistently low turnout. Low turnout elections are classic cases of where the system can be captured by highly motivated vested interests (such as ineffective teachers who want to make it hard for ineffective teachers to be removed from the system).

Posted by: DCresident31 | February 14, 2011 7:27 AM | Report abuse

for youngWaPoreader (all of whom we treasure), if you have some research backing up your assumption that American college students aren't as smart or as well prepared as those in other developed countries, I hope you share it with us. Your view is at odds with most of the research I have seen. The recent news has been that those countries have caught up with us in the percentage of the younger population who are completing college, but they make no assertions about the relative quality of those college students. Since our universities still attract far more foreign students than any other country, and still top most world university rating systems, it seems unlikely that they are not turning out good students, at least relatively speaking. Researchers who have looked at the quality of undergraduate education in some of our economic competitors, such as Japan, report that we have much more challenging environments than they do.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | February 14, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Bottom Line

Rhee lied and Jay and many others were duped.

Give the girl credit, she knows how to start a war. The Rheeformers against(blank). Just like Palin, she will always give folks much to talk about.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | February 14, 2011 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company