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PISA—the international test, the Program in International Student Assessment—has set off an insane competition among nations to lift their ranking. Only one country can be #1, and the rankings have political consequences. Rich countries always get higher scores than poor ones. Nations with less poverty get higher scores than those with more poverty.
The US typically ranks in the middle, not because it is a poor country but because it has very high rates of child poverty. But the news media always report the results like a horse race and blame the schools because we are not number one. We have never been number one on international assessments because of the 20-25% of our children who live in poverty. Yet neither the federal nor state governments have adopted a goal of reducing child poverty.
The media simply refuse to acknowledge that the tests tell us that poverty matters. Instead, they produce raw meat for demagogues with simple solutions, like Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, and Arne Duncan, now DeVos. When the PISA results are released, it is another opportunity to moan about “a Sputnik moment” and dreams of becoming more like South Korea or Shanghai.
Why don’t the media or the politicians say it is time to emulate Finland, which has high rankings, low child poverty, and no standardized testing?
William Stewart of the British TES (Times Educational Supplement) reports that teachers are feeling anxiety over national rankings.
Why are the nations of the world bothering to participate? Maybe it is a matter of national pride, even though most are doomed to “fail.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if nations opted out?