International Performance Study Points up What Works in Education

AFT President Randi Weingarten has some noteworthy observations about the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) 2015 survey of half a million students representing 15-year-olds in about 70 countries to gauge their knowledge and skills in math, reading, and science.

First, for context, here’s how Education Week summarized the U.S. results:  “The nation’s 15-year-olds performed above average for all countries participating in PISA in reading and science in 2015, and American students reported higher-than-average rates of enjoying science, reading about science, and interest in STEM careers, according to results released this morning. But overall, American students have not improved in either reading or science performance since 2009, and they have declined in math performance during that time, putting the United States slightly below the international average.”

Here’s what Randi Weingarten had to say about U.S. performance and about the larger implications of the 2015 findings:

The latest U.S. PISA achievement results are disappointing but not surprising. They were predictable given the impact of the last 15 years of U.S. education policies combined with continuing state disinvestment following the 2008 recession. Thirty-one states still spend less per pupil than before the recession.

Last year, many people on both sides of the aisle worked hard to change federal education policy. ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act) strengthens public education by increasing equity for disadvantaged children, providing more state and local control and holding charter schools more accountable. We can see the footprints of those strategies for student success in the new PISA findings. Importantly, public school systems worldwide outperform charter and private schools, underlining the need to support and invest in our public schools with policies and programs that work.

While the United States has made some progress on providing a more equitable public education system, we still have a long way to go. Equity is a key building block to excellence.

The PISA report encourages United States policymakers to study countries like Germany, Canada, Hong Kong and Estonia to see how a high level of equity, use of tests for diagnostic (not punishment) purposes, and respect for teachers’ professional knowledge and judgment yield improved student performance. On the flip side, Finland—with a government that is investing less on public education and moving away from its student- and teacher-centered strategies—appears to have lost ground in the past few years. Policymakers in the United States and around the world should look more closely at that cautionary tale.