To the Editor:
The 2009 results from the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, show average scores in reading, science, and math for American students (“U.S. Rises to International Average in Science,” Dec. 7, 2010). These findings are another wake-up call that the status quo is no longer acceptable. The United States built the greatest economy in history by leading the world in education. If we want to reclaim that position, we must lead the way again and adopt proven policies that will move us forward.
Before rushing to judgment about the next steps needed to improve our schools, we should look at comparable, successful nations and try to learn from their experiences. Examining the PISA results in more detail gives an intriguing insight into how other nations boost student learning and performance and underscores the importance of elevating the teaching profession.
Canada, in the top five on PISA, has strengthened teacher preparation, raised salaries, and given teachers more autonomy to be instructional leaders. Canada’s policymakers significantly increased professional development and welcomed teachers as partners in reform. Meanwhile, U.S. practitioners fend off efforts to deprofessionalize teaching, with repeated calls for shortcut routes into the classroom and limits on pay for advanced degrees. And our teachers are subject to prescriptive mandates such as those under the No Child Left Behind Act that limit instruction to basic-level skills.
Teacher professionalism matters. In a report on international examples of successful education systems, the global firm McKinsey & Co. found strong systems are “characterized by higher skill educators, [and] provide only loose, central guidelines for teaching and learning processes, in order to encourage peer-led creativity and innovation inside schools, the core driver for raising performance at this stage.”
We need to focus on what leading countries are doing to improve public education, and take an honest look at the respect and support that we give to our nation’s teacher corps.
Dennis Van Roekel
National Education Association
A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as To Raise PISA Scores, We Must Support Teachers