“Education has so much to learn!” — Ashleigh Brilliant.
On Dec. 3, I was watching the PBS Newshour when they showed a segment about the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). This is a test given every three years to 15-year-old students of 65 countries around the world (5,000 in the United States) to see how they compare and which ones improved or faltered. I thought about taking notes as I watched, but I assumed it would be well reported in the Dec. 4 newspapers, so I let it go.
Well, the next day when I scanned the Chronicle, the San Mateo County Times and our own Daily Journal, the only thing I found was a small article on an inside page of the Chronicle. What, I thought, is going on? It seems that this would be a report that merits wide coverage. Even “Time” magazine devoted only a small blurb titled, “A Nation of C Students” in that week’s issue. So then I searched the San Jose Mercury News on Google and found the article that had been published in that newspaper. I read that the United States ranked 26th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading and the United States hasn’t improved noticeably in any of these for many years. Also, the top quarter of U.S. students performed considerably lower than the top quarter of some other countries.
After reading whatever I could find about the report, many questions came to mind. First, why was Shanghai, which was number one in all three categories, considered equal to a country? (It was reported that 12 provinces of China took the test but only tests from large cities were publicly released.) What kind of finagling is that? Apparently, if we would have considered Massachusetts and Connecticut a country, it could have been right up there near the top.
But even so, the results for the United States didn’t bode well for our educational system. Is that why PISA wasn’t given more press? What does it say, especially since there has been little or no improvement in U.S. scores for some time, about “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top”? Could we maybe learn something from some other countries like Germany, and the United Kingdom, who have improved their scores over the same time span? Are their teachers better trained, better paid and more highly esteemed? Are their hours of school attendance longer each day and each year? Are fewer children learners of that particular country’s language?
But I also think it is essential that we look at the values that we generally hold in this country when it comes to education and raising our children. Maybe it would help in finding out what accounts for the mediocre showing of the United States, which takes so much pride in being “the best.” For one, we need to seriously consider how we value (or don’t value) our children. We also need to consider the effect of our culture.
Do most parents make it a priority to spend quality time with their children? Are children taught, by example, self-respect and respect for others? Do our children eat healthfully on a regular basis? Do they get enough sleep and regular physical activity? Are too many children being born to parents who do not care for them adequately?
Is education highly valued or are children (especially boys) who excel in school denigrated and put down and even bullied? How many parents are well educated? Do they enjoy intellectual pursuits? Are there preschool programs for all children?
What kind of media with what kinds of values are the children watching? How is the American family depicted on television and other media? As I see it, it’s much too often a bunch of ignorant, sex-obsessed, mindless flakes. How many parents realize (or care) that their children are exploited by corporate interests for economic gain and allow their offspring’s brains to be addled by explicitly violent and crass media?
It’s difficult to understand why the results of PISA seem to have been taken so lightly by our government, educators and the media. It makes one wonder if much of the corporate-controlled media was cautioned to play it down. But if the United States expects to remain a leader of the world and have a productive economy, how can this happen if our schools are not more successful in teaching our children what they need to grow up well-educated so we can at least hold our own with other developed countries?
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.