One of the aspects of public education which Ms. Kaye focused on was low test scores. While America's performance on international tests wasn't specifically mentioned (or if it was, it was edited out), it's common among the PPPs (politicians, pundits and policy makers) to decry the low ranking of our students when compared to other nations. In another interview, this one with Michelle Rhee, Ms. Kaye asked,
...you point to a new Harvard study that ranks the US 25th internationally in education. What do you think it is that we need to improve?Ms. Rhee's response...
People don't understand where we stand right now on international rankings on academics. We are behind countries like Hungary and Luxumbourg.Rhee went on to claim that true school reform means getting rid of bad teachers and offering more choice to families. There was no mention at all of the effects of poverty on American students, no suggestion that students in poverty need more support, and no suggestion that we attempt to improve low performing schools instead of just
The Harvard study which Rhee referred to doesn't even speak to academic achievement levels. Instead it focuses on the rate of academic growth for states and countries. Some lower performing states, for example, increased their achievement at a greater rate than higher performing states. Part of this may be due to the "catch up" factor. States which made large gains, such as Louisiana, Arkansas, and South Carolina, are still among the lowest performing states in the nation. In contrast, some of the states with the lowest improvement gains, Connecticut, Vermont and Minnesota, for example, are among the highest performing states in the nation (see America's Smartest Kids). Furthermore, it's still true that students who perform better on NAEP tests tend to come from states with lower levels of student poverty.
Rankings, whether domestic or international, are good for identifying trends. However, there are many factors which go into the achievement levels of students in various geographic areas. Factors such as poverty, health care, economic and academic investment in schools and teacher training, and societal attitudes towards education and educators all make an impact on the nation's or state's test results. Using low rankings as a bludgeon to destroy public education is a misuse of test scores and a disservice to students.
The American obsession with rankings and "being number one" has damaged public education. We have never been number one in academic tests yet we've managed to lead the world economically and scientifically (among other things) over the last half century. How is that possible?
Do we blame doctors and hospitals because the United States ranks 37th internationally in health care (behind such places as Luxembourg, Columbia, and Singapore) or 34th in infant mortality rates (which puts us behind Iceland, Slovenia and Cuba)?
Do we blame psychologists and psychiatrists because the US ranks 11th in "happiness" (behind places like Israel, Austria and Canada)?
We don't have a nation-wide problem with failing schools. What we have is a problem with the failure of our leaders to address the issues facing schools with high levels of poverty. It's time to end the privatization of public education and focus on supporting public schools.
Stop the Testing Insanity!