Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who Knew?

Thanks to Libby Quaid of the Associated Press for taking the time to sort out the facts behind the myth-making that goes on around our public schools. While she points out that our schools could do better—no kidding, that’s why my staff and I put in so many hours on behalf of our kids and community—she makes it clear that the facts do not support many of the claims about our schools.

I’ll leave it to you to read her analysis, but a few highlights—

•On international comparisons, which, as Gerry Bracey often points out can be suspect, American school kids do as well as the Brits and Germans.
•Our kids may not go to school as many days as do kids in South Korea, but because of a longer school day they spend more time in school than do students in that and other nations.
•Our college graduation rates, while no where near good enough, hold up well internationally when you factor in things like that the US includes non-citizens in such rates and that many European countries have switched to three year degrees, easier to complete than four or six year degrees which are the norm here.
Who knew?

But on closer inspection, there are some other questions to be raised.

School days: The reason kids in some of the so-called high achieving nations have shorter school days is because those systems, which value teacher development, use part of the day for teams of teachers to work together on lessons and student achievement. The Forum has argued that time in the teacher day for staff development, cooperative lesson planning, and reviewing student achievement is necessary if our schools are to improve. Just adding time to the school year is not the answer, it is how that time is utilized.

More on school days: The nations we are so often compared to do not provide all the other things our schools provide—sports, bands, theater, etc. Rather, this is left to the larger community and the schools just focus on academics. Not a choice we have made, but something to remember when looking at time comparisons.

Tests: American kids do not do well on one of the international tests of math, Program for International Assessment (PISA), but do better on the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS). This should not be any surprise—PISA measures how well kids apply math to real-world problems. Given the single-minded focus on standardized test scores driven by NCLB it is no surprise kids do not do well on a test that looks at real world applications. Again, who knew?

Look, we all know that we can do better in our system of public education. But maybe we can find the solutions not in sloganeering from politicians but in the hard work of teachers in this nation right now.

The Forum, through our Democracy at Risk recommendations last spring set forth an ambitious plan for investing in teaching, high quality learning opportunities, performance assessment and community involvement. It was, as Representative George Miller, chair of the House Education Committee said, “Spot on….a good place to start (when discussing NCLB reauthorization).”

We agree.

I wish I had more time to work on this agenda in Washington. But today my staff and I are too busy as all of our seniors present their Graduation Portfolios which demonstrate how they are ready to leave our school as life-long learners, engaged citizens, and on the path to career or college. How I wish those folks inside the beltway could see what is going on inside our school.

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