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What People Are Saying About the PISA Results

By Erik W. Robelen — December 08, 2010 3 min read
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With the public release yesterday of the latest results from PISA, an international student assessment, I thought I’d pull together a sampling of opinion and analysis issued in reaction to the new data. (U.S. 15-year-olds were ranked as average in science and reading in comparison with leading industrialized nations, and below the average in math.)

Be warned: At least some of the views expressed below may be deemed to advance a predetermined agenda! Without further ado, here goes:

• “The PISA results, to be brutally honest, show that a host of developed nations are outeducating us. ... The mediocre performance of American students is a problem that we cannot accept and cannot ignore.”
—U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

• “The positive news is that the United States has stopped dropping in the international rankings, and there has even been some improvement in the mean scores in all three subjects since the last assessment, with significant gains in science. Most positively, approximately 25 percent of low-income students tested in the top quartile, showing that with the right support, every child can learn at a high level.”
—Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education (and former West Virginia governor)

• “What the PISA results tell us is that if you don’t make smart investments in teachers, respect them or involve them in decisionmaking, as the top-performing countries, do, students pay a price.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers

• “On a test of math, reading and science given to 15-year-olds in 65 countries in 2009, Shanghai’s 15-year-olds topped those in every other jurisdiction in ALL THREE SUBJECTS. ... The 2009 testing cycle marked the first time that youngsters in China proper participated. To be sure, it was only Shanghai, the country’s flagship city in so many ways, a single megalopolis on which Beijing has lavished much investment and attention, many favorable policies and even (for China) a relatively high degree of freedom. But Americans—and the rest of the world—would make a big mistake to suppose for one second that this Shanghai result is some sort of aberration or unique case.”
Chester E. Finn Jr.: president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

• “The difference between the countries at the top of these rankings and the U.S. is that the countries who are outperforming us have made developing the best education system in the world a national goal. Those countries made academic success a national effort.”
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee

• “PISA tells us that if we are serious about reaching all students, we must take their circumstance into account: Students have different experiences, and instruction should be designed to meet students where they are. This new research shows once again that poverty and educational inequity are indisputably linked. “
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association

• “It is beyond troubling that American students remain in the lower tier among the global community, even with more money being piped into our education system than ever before. ... America needs to expect more of our schools, our teachers and our kids if we are to regain a competitive foothold in the global community. We cannot lead from the middle of the pack.”
Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform

• “The performance of U.S. students compared with their international peers in mathematics on the PISA assessment underscores the need for integrating reasoning and sense-making in our teaching of mathematics.”
—Mike Shaughnessy, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

• “These results show the importance of states continuing to lead on the college- and career-ready agenda so that we can graduate students ready to compete against their global peers. Today’s PISA results demonstrate the urgency of that work.”
Michael Cohen, president of Achieve

Also, although not a commentary, the New York Times has an interesting take on the PISA results, diving deep into the strong performance by Shanghai, which participated for the first time in 2009 and outperformed all nations that participated.

That story says: “Experts noted the obvious difficulty of using a standardized test to compare countries and cities of vastly different sizes. Even so, they said the stellar academic performance of students in Shanghai was noteworthy, and another sign of China’s rapid modernization.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.