Bad News for U.S. School Performance; How to Fix "Leaning Tower of PISA"?

Today is PISA Day, and I’m not referring to pepperoni pies or unusual Italian landmarks. The 2012 results from the Program for International Student Assessment are in, and it doesn’t look pretty for the good old USA. At least not on the surface.

First, let’s take a quick trip back to September, when I brought your attention to the unsettling book Endangering Prosperity and pointed out that America needs to take a different path to improve unimpressive math test scores. That was when our nation’s 15-year-olds scored a sub-par 487 on the PISA:

Don’t forget the number 32! And not because it was worn on the jerseys of great athletes like Magic Johnson, Sandy Koufax, and Jim Brown. How about the fact that American students rank #32 in the world in math proficiency? Yeah, that’s not so much to get excited about.

Right now, a 32nd ranking looks pretty good. That’s because the latest results put us at 37th, and not because everybody’s scores are going up. Rather than Magic Johnson or Sandy Koufax, the #37 gets you the late legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel, who once famously said: “The trick is growing up without growing old.”

Not sure if your young edublogger is doing either, but I digress.

Our nation’s score of 481 in math, down six points from the last testing, moves us from a tie with Ireland into a slot directly between the Slovak Republic and Lithuania. The USA lost less ground in the other two tested subject areas, but still fell from 17th to 24th in reading and 22nd to 28th in science. Given all the dollars we spend per student on K-12 education in this nation, the results and trend lines are hardly inspiring. All the more reason to think about how at least we in Colorado can make sure that Kids Are First.

With all that being said, it’s also important to heed Jay Greene’s valuable prescription not to “impose a preferred policy prescription” based on which nations are registering what PISA scores. Better to stick with the statistically sound methods of the co-authors of Endangering Prosperity. It’s a lot easier to see we’re not achieving well than to find the silver bullet solution to our problems.

What can we do to keep the USA’s PISA scores, like a certain tower in central Italy, from leaning further and further away from the goal? Because, for a number of reasons, far too many American students are leaving school inadequately equipped for the future. With apologies to Stengel, that may mean some growing up to get the job done, even if some of us happen to get old in the process.