Education 2

Poor U.S. results highlight need to improve K-12 education

“Remember the movie Groundhog Day, where the main character wakes up every morning and realizes nothing has changed? He’s reliving the same day over and over again. Well, that pretty much sums up the latest PISA results for 15 year olds in the U.S. Their scores in reading, math, and science have not changed since 2003.”

That’s how NPR’s Morning Edition greeted what it calls the “sobering” results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The results are sobering – even arresting – because American 15 year olds have fared poorly for years in comparison with students from other countries on the triennial assessment administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

No change = no good news

The organization tracks student achievement in both OECD and non-OECD countries. It assesses not only acquired knowledge in reading, science, and math, but also examines how well students can apply that knowledge in real-world situations.

This year, American students not only showed no improvement, they actually slipped slightly as other countries passed them by. Among the 65 countries included in the most recent assessment, U.S. students ranked 31st in math, 24th in science, and 21st in reading.

According to PISA, U.S. students have particular weaknesses in performing math tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world challenges and translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in everyday life.

Lagging behind international competitors

Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter testified before Congress this year that “America’s K-12 education system is undermining our national competitiveness.” Why? Because American schools’ curricula “do not prepare American students for productive work.” (He elaborated on America’s competitiveness challenges in an interview with Charlie Rose that is well worth watching).

In a recent presentation at a gathering sponsored by the Harvard Business School, the Gates Foundation, and the Boston Consulting Group, Porter highlighted just what these education trends can mean. He noted that in a recent global assessment of literacy, problem solving, and numeracy, U.S. adults generally lag behind their international peers (see chart). In some instances – like with adults aged 16-24 and 25-34 – the U.S. lags badly.

Given the increasingly competitive global economic environment, numbers like these should be setting off alarm bells in Washington and in our state capitals.

If we have any hope of changing those numbers in the future, we will have to undertake serious reforms equal to the sobering news from the PISA report.

One meaningful step to take is to ensure the Common Core State Standards are fully implemented across the country, so we begin to encourage deeper learning and more critical thinking among all students. This is something I have addressed several times recently.

Why do we care? Because ExxonMobil is a U.S.-based company, and we recognize that improving U.S. educational performance is vital to the success of our industry and to broader national competitiveness in the years to come.

A recent alignment study between the Common Core State Standards for mathematics and PISA suggests that full implementation of the Common Core would significantly improve U.S. students’ PISA results (see chapter 4).

As the latest PISA results show, what we’re doing now simply isn’t working.


6 Comments

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  1. Dave Carne says:

    Oh Ken, I love your posts. They are just so wickedly biased that it’s stunning. In your defense, its not just you, its everybody. Here is the truth: Scores, for the vast majority for students have improved among American students over the last 5-10 years on PISA and remained steady in relationship to the scores of other major western industrialized nations, as a trend. What its actually being reported here and elsewhere is the phenomena that our poorest performing students are not improving on the test as quickly as other countries poorest students- pulling the overall numbers down. This is indicative of an isolated, fixable problem not a systemic failure. Furthermore, we have NEVER, since American students took the first variation of PISA in the 1950′s (it wasn’t called that back then nor was it the same test but its attempted to do the same thing) excelled on the international academic stage. There are various theories on this that I won’t get into here but its important to note that this is not a new problem, in fact, it could be easily argued that it isn’t a problem at all. (The Privatization Hoax, chapter 3)

    Additionally, you are conflating Common Core standards with PISA and test scores. The are far from being the same thing. In fact, in places where Common Core standards are being experimented with or at least their criteria are already implemented, scores on PISA have gone down. ( I can’t cite this, I no longer have access… read more »

    …to Ebsco host, someone who does can find it)

    Just tell it like it is, instead of muddling your motives in a veil of concern over the long-term viability of the workforce. Exxon’s leadership, for years now, has spearheaded the effort to privatize education. Which, in my view, is fine. The problem is, you guys want to open education to venture capital, which is not fine. There is a difference a people need to know about it. School autonomy and school choice are a good thing. Separation from the teacher’s union, is a good thing. More effective education spending is a good thing. Making the minds of our kids motive for profit is just plain awful.

  2. John Shepard says:

    Ken, what would it take to convince you that we in fact should not embrace Common Core (more government involvement in education), but instead that we should be arguing for a truly free market in education, a separation of state and education, just as we should be in favor of a separation of the state and economics across the board, and for the same reason we should favor and support a separation of state and religion?

    “Why Businessmen Need Philosophy” by Leonard Peikoff:
    http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=arc_leonard_peikoff_why_businessmen_need_philosophy

    “Education in a Free Society” by C. Bradley Thompson (The Objective Standard; requires subscription or PDF purchase, though the first eight paragraphs can be read for free):
    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2013-winter/education-in-a-free-society.asp

    “Egalitarian Call to Abolish Private Schools is Morally Obscene and Economically Absurd” by Michael A. LaFerrara (The Objective Standard):
    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/blog/index.php/2013/10/egalitarian-call-to-abolish-private-schools-is-morally-obscene-and-economically-absurd/

    “The Separation of Church and State” by Onkar Ghate (~1 hr with a 22 min. Q&A):
    http://arc-tv.com/the-separation-of-church-and-state/

    “Onkar Ghate delivered this lecture on July 5, 2009, in Boston. With religion on the rise in America, maintaining the separation of church and state is now a pressing issue. This talk examines some of the history behind, as well as the arguments for and against, the principle of separating religion from government. It considers contemporary ways in which the principle is being attacked and why even well-meaning Americans are increasingly unable to mount a defense. Finally, it defines what a proper, philosophical argument for the need to separate church from state looks like.”

    The principle (individual rights) is the same in all these spheres, and it is the founding principle,… read more »

    …the distinctive principle, of America.

    Dave Carne: “Making the minds of our kids motive for profit is just plain awful.” Nonsense, Dave, a free market that forbids venture capital is not a free market.

  3. John Shepard says:

    “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism” by Craig Biddle (The Objective Standard) – lengthy (free) article on the nature and requirements, the philosophical requirements, for a free society:

    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2013-winter/libertarianism-vs-radical-capitalism.asp

  4. donald gotshalk says:

    You have a problem. Common Core standards are the opposite of what this country needs.
    I am a fan of a little old lady from Brookline Massachusetts who has been on a crusade around the country explaining why.
    She has been invited to speak at many State education committees explaining why.
    She is well known all around the country but particularly in her home town and state. The Boston Globe nick named her “the doberman grandam” She has 12. The Massachusetts State House nick named her the “Wicked Witch of the State House”
    He Family, friends, associates and fans just call her “America’s grandma”
    How this little old lady slugs it out with the Gates, Obama, Duncan, Patrick and company is an unusual story of courage.
    Her name is Sandra Stotsky. Just google her name and click on a view of the U tube presentations of her before an education committee. Recently in Ohio the head of that state’s education committee, later to be identified as having a wife connected to the education Text book industry tried, unsuccessfully to shut her down. The most discouraging message you receive from her is how she tells about the fear of many teachers and administrators to speak up and complain. They are in fear of their careers.

  5. John Shepard says:

    “Toward a Free Market in Education: School Vouchers or Tax Credits?” by Michael A. LaFerrara (The Objective Standard):

    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2011-spring/school-vouchers-tax-credits.asp

  6. Wendy Van Norden says:

    I applaud ExxonMobil’s commitment to education. Having a workforce well educated in STEM is critical for the entire petroleum industry. If ExxonMobil wants to make a lasting contribution in this field, consideration should be given to solving an underlying problem in science education. High School students do not take Geology or Earth Science courses. As a direct result, they are unlikely to pursue the geosciences in college and to consider a career in the petroleum industry.
    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an overall 19% increase in all geoscience-related occupations between 2006 and 2016, yet the already small pool of graduates with geoscience degrees is not growing. This is a problem for the petroleum industry.
    There are probably many reasons for this problem, the one of the most obvious reasons is the lack of Earth Science in the High Schools. Earth Science is occasionally offered as a middle school course and is usually offered to the non-college bound students. Our best and brightest high school students are busy taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Even if a rigorous Earth Science course is offered, top science students will not enroll, because it does not look as prestigious on their college transcripts as an AP course. There is no AP Geology. The College Board will not develop an AP Geology or AP Earth Science course without funding. By helping to fund the creation of an… read more »

    …AP Geology course, ExxonMobil could remove a roadblock that has been preventing bright science students from considering a career in the geosciences.
    I would be interested in working on this with someone from ExxonMobil on this project. I am just hoping that someone reading this blog can point me in the right direction.
    Wendy Van Norden
    National Earth Science Teacher Association – Far West Director
    Harvard-Westlake School
    Studio City, CA 91411
    wvannorden@hw.com

  7. Dave Carne says:

    Oh Ken, I love your posts. They are just so wickedly biased that it’s stunning. In your defense, its not just you, its everybody. Here is the truth: Scores, for the vast majority for students have improved among American students over the last 5-10 years on PISA and remained steady in relationship to the scores of other major western industrialized nations, as a trend. What its actually being reported here and elsewhere is the phenomena that our poorest performing students are not improving on the test as quickly as other countries poorest students- pulling the overall numbers down. This is indicative of an isolated, fixable problem not a systemic failure. Furthermore, we have NEVER, since American students took the first variation of PISA in the 1950′s (it wasn’t called that back then nor was it the same test but its attempted to do the same thing) excelled on the international academic stage. There are various theories on this that I won’t get into here but its important to note that this is not a new problem, in fact, it could be easily argued that it isn’t a problem at all. (The Privatization Hoax, chapter 3)

    Additionally, you are conflating Common Core standards with PISA and test scores. The are far from being the same thing. In fact, in places where Common Core standards are being experimented with or at least their criteria are already implemented, scores on PISA have gone down. ( I can’t cite this, I no longer have access… read more »

    …to Ebsco host, someone who does can find it)

    Just tell it like it is, instead of muddling your motives in a veil of concern over the long-term viability of the workforce. Exxon’s leadership, for years now, has spearheaded the effort to privatize education. Which, in my view, is fine. The problem is, you guys want to open education to venture capital, which is not fine. There is a difference a people need to know about it. School autonomy and school choice are a good thing. Separation from the teacher’s union, is a good thing. More effective education spending is a good thing. Making the minds of our kids motive for profit is just plain awful.

  8. John Shepard says:

    Ken, what would it take to convince you that we in fact should not embrace Common Core (more government involvement in education), but instead that we should be arguing for a truly free market in education, a separation of state and education, just as we should be in favor of a separation of the state and economics across the board, and for the same reason we should favor and support a separation of state and religion?

    “Why Businessmen Need Philosophy” by Leonard Peikoff:
    http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=arc_leonard_peikoff_why_businessmen_need_philosophy

    “Education in a Free Society” by C. Bradley Thompson (The Objective Standard; requires subscription or PDF purchase, though the first eight paragraphs can be read for free):
    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2013-winter/education-in-a-free-society.asp

    “Egalitarian Call to Abolish Private Schools is Morally Obscene and Economically Absurd” by Michael A. LaFerrara (The Objective Standard):
    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/blog/index.php/2013/10/egalitarian-call-to-abolish-private-schools-is-morally-obscene-and-economically-absurd/

    “The Separation of Church and State” by Onkar Ghate (~1 hr with a 22 min. Q&A):
    http://arc-tv.com/the-separation-of-church-and-state/

    “Onkar Ghate delivered this lecture on July 5, 2009, in Boston. With religion on the rise in America, maintaining the separation of church and state is now a pressing issue. This talk examines some of the history behind, as well as the arguments for and against, the principle of separating religion from government. It considers contemporary ways in which the principle is being attacked and why even well-meaning Americans are increasingly unable to mount a defense. Finally, it defines what a proper, philosophical argument for the need to separate church from state looks like.”

    The principle (individual rights) is the same in all these spheres, and it is the founding principle,… read more »

    …the distinctive principle, of America.

    Dave Carne: “Making the minds of our kids motive for profit is just plain awful.” Nonsense, Dave, a free market that forbids venture capital is not a free market.

  9. John Shepard says:

    “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism” by Craig Biddle (The Objective Standard) – lengthy (free) article on the nature and requirements, the philosophical requirements, for a free society:

    http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2013-winter/libertarianism-vs-radical-capitalism.asp