December 2013/January 2014 Issue
December 17, 2013

PISA report highlights a reform agenda in crisis

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United

An internationally recognized assessment of how high school students around the world are performing in math, reading and science underscores what is becoming increasingly apparent: The United States' education reform agenda is failing students and educators.

"A decade of top-down policies focused on hypertesting students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools has failed to improve the quality of American public education," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Her comments stem from the recent release of the Programme for International Student Assessment report, which is administered every three years. PISA is developed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international policy group.

More than 510,000 15-year-old students in 65 countries and education systems took part in the 2012 test. The U.S. ranked 26th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading.

"Sadly, our nation has ignored the lessons from the high-performing nations. These countries deeply respect public education, work to ensure that teachers are well-prepared and well-supported, and provide students not just with standards but with tools to meet them - such as ensuring a robust curriculum, addressing equity issues so children with the most needs get the most resources, and increasing parental involvement," Weingarten said.

Indeed, "none of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing like the United States does.

"The crucial question we face now is whether we have the political will to move away from failed policies," she said.

Education reform in the U.S. that started with No Child Left Behind and progressed to Race to the Top has contributed little to promote productive learning environments in schools.

Instead, the policies promote competition over collaboration, push standardized testing over multiple, authentic assessments and seek ways to inject privatization into public systems rather than ensure resources are allocated fully and equitably so all children can succeed.

"New York state should consider this report further evidence of the need to provide all students and educators the support and resources they need to meet higher standards, instead of more of the same failed policies and hyperfocus on testing," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the PISA results are not proof that the U.S. needs to accelerate voucher programs, continue ineffective high-stakes testing or scapegoat teachers. In fact, he said, the results show that success is attained when schools are able to balance professional autonomy with a collaborative culture.

High-performing nations, he said, "invest in early childhood education.

They fully fund all of their schools. They make the teaching profession attractive and they support their teachers. They value the collaboration between parents, educators, administrators, communities and elected officials."

NYSUT will continue to press the State Education Department, the Regents and state Legislature to make meaningful and necessary changes in New York's reform agenda so there is a renewed focus on teaching and learning, not testing.

"Our students are not failing. The reform agenda is failing,"said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.

"Our state policymakers need a strong economic and political will to make the needed corrections."