Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona's Remarks on Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) Test Results

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona's Remarks on Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) Test Results

December 5, 2023

Thank you, Commissioner Carr, and Department of Education colleagues.

I'm glad that we have this unique and important opportunity, thanks to PISA, to compare educational outcomes across countries – especially in the wake of a global pandemic that disrupted education everywhere.

Here's the bottom line.  At an extremely tough time in education, the United States moved up in the world rankings in reading, math, and science – all three categories PISA measures – while, unfortunately, many other countries saw declines.

Today's results are further proof that President Biden's bold investments, backed by tireless efforts at the Department of Education to support student success and academic recovery, kept the United States in the game. 

If President Biden hadn't fought for the single largest investment in education in our nation's history – and delivered it in the form of the American Rescue Plan – we'd be in the same boat as other countries, who didn't make those investments, and saw their rankings fall.

President Biden believes that investing in public education is investing in the nation's future. 

These results also show that we can't be satisfied with the status quo in education.  There's much work to be done – and we need all hands on deck to accelerate academic success.

While we saw even more dramatic declines in math scores in other countries, our math scores are still declining, and they remain stubbornly low.

So we cannot be complacent at home – not when math is critical to our global competitiveness and leadership. 

And not when so many of the high-paying, high-skilled jobs of the future benefit from strong math abilities.

We need a math revolution. 

We need to see higher-level math in every school in this country and that's why our Raise the Bar: Lead the World plan at the Department of Education emphasizes math instruction so much. 

It also emphasizes ensuring we have a highly qualified educator workforce that receives professional learning on math instruction.
Also, in September, our Institute of Education Sciences convened a three-day virtual Mathematics Summit, with more than 2,000 people from across the country, which focused on identifying strategies for closing gaps and accelerating mathematics learning to differentiating instruction for diverse learners and more.
And tomorrow, the Administration will announce nearly $90 million in new awards in STEM education, to speed up adoption of effective instructional strategies in STEM.

The PISA results also show us that longstanding achievement gaps remain stubborn in the United States.  We cannot be ok with normalizing that.
Our students deserve better, not the same. 

And while the pandemic made them worse, gaps have been existing in our country ever since we've been collecting data.

Let's remember: this is the United States of America.  We have the potential to lead the world in education and the strength to make sure every student benefits from a quality education in this country.  And we shouldn't aim for anything less.  In the United States, we have what it takes to be #1 in PISA. 

So today, we need to fight complacency with the same urgency with which we fought COVID, not only to secure academic recovery for the present, but academic excellence for the future. 

We need to Raise the Bar for education in America. 

That calls for us to act with the urgency the moment demands – and it calls for us to be "all hands on deck" at every level. 

In the coming weeks, I'll be reaching out to state and local leaders in education to discuss the actions they're taking to raise the bar and accelerate academic success – and how we at the federal level can support them. 

We'll have these conversations with Governors, with Mayors, with state elected officials as well.  We're all in this together.

We're asking these leaders to take specific and measurable actions that are proven to accelerate outcomes, alongside a focus on strong core instruction, a highly qualified and supported educator workforce, and evidence-based strategies like extended learning time, high-quality tutoring, smart use of data, efforts to bolster school attendance and engagement, and investing in mental health and well-being.  These are the things I keep hearing about when I speak to parents, educators, and students themselves.

Additionally, we're looking to drive intentional partnerships between these state and local leaders and key stakeholders like philanthropy and other funders, concentrating our efforts on the students and districts with the greatest needs.

Let me also take a step back here. 

PISA is fundamentally about how we test students' readiness for the real world.  It seeks to get a sense of how students are able to apply their knowledge in their life and career as they near the end of their K-12 schooling.

That doesn't mean teaching to a test, but rather embracing a broader, more holistic approach. 

It's why our Raise the Bar: Lead the World agenda focuses not only on academic excellence, but boldly improving learning conditions, and strengthening college and career pathways for students. 

And it calls for a focus on substance, not sensationalism in education.

As a lifelong educator: we know what our students need to be successful.  And we're working to support states and districts to get that done.

This is not a time to stoke culture wars or ideological divisions. 

It's not a time to pit parents against schools. 

It's not a time to defund public education – which is what so many of our colleagues in Congress are talking about on the Republican side.

Some Republicans in Congress are focusing on banning books and privatizing schools instead of ensuring our kids and schools have the support they need. 

They've proposed gutting education funding for our students and limiting educators' abilities to address student mental health issues and prevent violence, suicide, and drug abuse by cutting funding for our schools.

Let me be very clear here: you cannot increase your rankings internationally if you're not willing to invest in our students at home.

It's clear that President Biden has a different approach: keeping a laser focus on the fundamentals of academic success, fighting to ensure students across the country have the resources they need to learn and succeed, and looking at our public schools as an investment in our nation's continuous growth.

These PISA results demonstrate that's exactly where we need to be focused right now. 

If we step up and work together, I know we can and we will achieve the academic excellence that will position our nation to lead the world in education for years to come.