Thursday, December 9, 2010

I can't believe it!

Yes, I can’t believe yet another message about a Sputnik moment; this time in reference to the “poor” showing of U.S. students on the 2009 PISA assessments in combined literacy, mathematics, and science. This is an international comparison of how 15 year olds did on these three tests. For reference, 5,233 students from 165 public and private schools randomly selected to represent the United States.

From this FLYPAPER post from Chester Finn we read about the reference.

Fifty-three years after Sputnik caused an earthquake in American education by giving us reason to believe that the Soviet Union had surpassed us, China has delivered another shock. On math, reading and science tests given to 15-year-olds in sixty-five countries last year, Shanghai’s teenagers topped every other jurisdiction in all three subjects. Hong Kong also ranked in the top four on all three assessments.

The results of this assessment produced immediate reaction from our Secretary Duncan and many others in the blogosphere. It has been a hot topic the last two days.

"For me, it's a massive wake-up call," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday. "Have we ever been satisfied as Americans being average in anything? Is that our aspiration? Our goal should be absolutely to lead the world in education."

The surprising news was that Shanghai replaced Finland at the top of the rankings. Our students scored around the average on all three tests resulting in a ranking of 23rd out of the 65 participating countries and education systems in science, 31st in math, and 17th in literacy. This average ranking is what has given rise to all the media hype. You can find articles in the Washington Post here, in the New York Times here, the Seattle Times, and a CNN article that gives reasons why we must start learning from Asia.

This short Washington Post article raises one of the questions going through my mind; given these results, has the NCLB focus on testing been successful? There are also the questions about education in Shanghai not being representative of that in China, that Hong Kong, another high scoring country, is not governed by China, the issue of one test for comparisons, universal education, the cultural differences, and . . .

This is one more opportunity for center stage about how poorly we are doing. I’m not familiar with the content of the assessments, but it would be interesting to see how our young people would do compared to the U.S. average and to those from the other countries. If one of you is a statistician, 5,233 students would be a representative random sample for what n? I don’t know how many 15 year olds in our country, but it seems like a small number. Probably just reaching when I need to accept the data and see what we might learn from it.

1 comment:

Ethan Smith said...

Your gut feeling is right on, accept it. There are fewer than 3,000,000 15 year-olds in the U.S. To be 99% certain that the overall population would fall within a range of +/- 2 on the test you would need to sample around 4,200 15 year olds.
I don't know why "they" bother making these Sputnik comparisons. A good thing to compare to our Sputnik experience would be a situation where there was a call to action followed by actual, major action. This is, and has been for years, a boy who cried wolf situation. We're paying as much attention to these cries of wolf about as much as we pay attention to car alarms anymore.