America: A Nation Of Idiots

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The Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development released its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2009. The research is done every three years. The 2009 survey include data from 35 nations. The poll covers as many as 10,000 students aged 15 and 16.

The organization says that “PISA focuses on young people’s ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges. This orientation reflects a change in the goals and objectives of curricula themselves, which are increasingly concerned with what students can do with what they learn at school and not merely with whether they have mastered specific curricular content.” Primary tests are for reading but some math skills are covered as well.

The US is now behind 16 other nations and regions. Those include the Shanghai area of China which was in first place. America was also behind Hong Kong, Canada, Finland, and Japan. Iceland is a spot ahead of the US. Liechtenstein is in the spot behind it.

The study says that the nations which do the best work with democratic principles. All students have access to good teachers. Less proficient students are not pared with less competent educators. And “engagement” is critical in the highest rated schools where a large portion of students enjoy reading. The US rated relatively low on that scale.

There are lessons in the research for the US, although those lessons are old and have not been heeded much. There is no national measurement scale to show how student performance varies from district to district. There is little evidence that weak students are put together with strong teachers. The use of Facebook and smartphones take up much of the time of high school students. Reading is hardly a priority.

The road block to better US education practices is often said to be the teachers union. That explains why the Administration and Congress are unwilling to mandate a better scale to benchmark skills from state to state and city to city. Competition has always  brought out the best and weeded out the worst. There is no sort of cross-country evaluation of education skills in America.

There are many reasons and much evidence that America will continue to fail to produce an environment and programs to make student skills “world class.” The problem is bemoaned and criticized in many quarters. Nothing concrete, however, is done about it.

Douglas A. McIntyre