Editorial: Lessons for U.S. schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ěLessons from PISAî sounds like a primer on building foundations for tall buildings, but itís actually a new report about foundations of the educational kind.
PISA is an acronym for Program for International Student Assessment. A project of the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, PISA assesses the test performance of 15-year-old students in dozens of countries every three years. When the most recent results came out late last year, the results werenít surprising: U.S. students score in the middle of the pack in reading and science, below average in math. The more significant take-away is in the follow-up report by PISA Director Andreas Schleicher and Steven L. Paine, a McGraw-Hill vice president and former West Virginia state school superintendent.
After studying the A-plus nations, the report from the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation focuses on these key differences between these systems and the U.S.:
Teacher status is a major problem here.
ěTeaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,î the report says. While thereís no magic formula for restoring the luster to this noble profession, other countries have done so ěnot just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform.î
High performing nations establish high standards applied to all students. This is particularly relevant as North Carolina contemplates changes in its testing regimen. Yet the authors acknowledge thereís no one-size-fits-all guide. Effective standards ěrange from defining broad educational goals up to formulating concise performance expectations in well-defined subject areas.î
Spending more doesnít guarantee achieving more. Where the money is spent, however, makes a big difference. The United States ěis one of only four OECD countries that appears to spend less money per student (based on teacher/student ratios) in its economically disadvantaged schools, while spending more in richer districts.î
Socio-economic differences have a powerful impact on U.S. results. The report says 17 percent of the variation in U.S. student performance can be attributed to a studentís socio-economic background, far higher than the average. ěThe United States does not have a more disadvantaged socio-economic student population than the OECD average country but the socio-economic differences that do exist among students in the U.S. translate into a particularly strong impact on student learning outcomes.î
While the report covers a lot of ground, one conclusion stands out. The most urgent mission is to invest ěin the preparation and development of high-quality teachers, while at the same time taking steps to elevate the status of the entire profession to a higher level of respect and regard.î
You can view the full report at www.mcgraw-hillresearchfoundation.org.