Do schools in the United States ask enough of students?
Based on the results of a major new international report, and conversations surrounding its release today, the answer is no.
Every three years, hundreds of thousands of 15-year-olds in more than 65 global economies take the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results provide a snapshot of how students in the U.S. compare to students around the globe. Earlier today, the 2012 PISA results were announced and Secretary Arne Duncan was on hand with Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Angel Gurria to discuss the results and what it means for education in America.
Duncan explained that results for the U.S. are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.” However, this is not to say that the U.S. hasn’t made any progress since the 2009 PISA. In the last three years, 700,000 fewer students are in high school dropout factories, college enrollment is up—especially among Hispanics—and the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed us that reading and math scores for 4th and 8th graders are up nationally to new highs.
Duncan also talked with a group of foreign exchange students from several countries, in a conversation moderated by author Amanda Ripley. The students said that schools in the United States did not expect as much of students as those in their home countries.
In his remarks, Duncan reminded those at today’s release that the America’s stagnation evident in the PISA results “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”
The PISA results give evidence of America’s troubling achievement gaps, and Duncan acknowledged that we must do better on closing what he calls the “opportunity gap.” “The only way to increase social mobility and strengthen the middle class is through high-quality education,” he said.
But today’s results also show that while white 15-year-olds in the U.S. do better on average than students of color, our white students are still lagging behind the world’s top performers.
So the real educational challenge in America is not just about poor kids in poor neighborhoods. It’s about many kids in many neighborhoods. The PISA results underscore that educational shortcomings in the U.S. are not just the problems of other people’s children.
To correct this, Duncan said that we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.
Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.
Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education