Jim Clark: What can be done to make U.S. students competitive? (opinion)
The Reno Gazette-Journal recently reported that 64% of first year students at Truckee Meadows Community College have to take remedial courses in English, math or both; 41% at University of Nevada, 58% at all Nevada colleges combined.
These kids were awarded high school diplomas only to find they weren’t ready for college work.
Meanwhile, results have just been released showing students’ scores on tests administered by the Programme for International Student Assessment (“PISA”) during the year 2015, and the entire U.S. isn’t looking so good.
The “programme” tests some 500,000 students, all 15 years of age, in 72 countries worldwide, measuring literacy in mathematics, science and reading. The US scored 25th.
Under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”), the PISA exam is given every three years and discloses what kind of bang the U.S. and other nations are getting for their buck, euro, pound, etc.
Top scorer for the second triennium in a row was Singapore. Within the top 10 are such diverse countries as Estonia, Japan, Finland, Hong Kong and … Canada. Canada?? Yes, our northern neighbor, a mirror of the U.S., except cleaner, scored 7th worldwide.
The consequences of our failing to prepare students for college, the workforce and a global economy are troubling.
Why are so many other nations able to outperform the most powerful country in the world when it comes to student achievement?
Seven of the top ten scoring countries were East Asian prompting OECD’s director of education, Andreas Schleicher, to remark: “The fact that students in most East Asian countries consistently believe that achievement is mainly a product of hard work rather than inherited intelligence … foster(s) success in education.”
So it’s cultural? If so, how did Estonia, Finland and Canada score in the top ten?
Frustration! What can be done to make American students more competitive? The PISA results offer a clue.
In the detailed breakdown OECD gives US scores on a state-by-state basis and for the second time in a row the State of Massachusetts students have scored well above the U.S. average.
In fact only three educational systems in the world outperformed Massachusetts in reading, six in science and nine in math. Massachusetts also scores at the top in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams given US 4th and 8th graders.
What, then, is the Bay State doing that Nevada isn’t? According to a report in U.S. News and World Report, 23 years ago the Massachusetts legislature passed major K-12 education reforms adopting rigorous academic goals and well-designed assessments coupled with increased financial support.
They massaged the program, and gradually the higher standards and expectations resulted in superior academic achievement.
Recently, the nation’s governors, in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, looked to Massachusetts in establishing the standards adopted in the “Common Core” curriculum.
Regrettably, Common Core was disparaged and politicized even before the standards could be independently validated. My belief is that the problem arose when Pres. Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, in his “Race to the Top” program, offered individual states financial incentives in for adopting Common Core, giving the incorrect impression that Common Core was a federalization of K-12 curricula.
According to U.S. News and World Report: “Common Core has long been a state-led effort, and the federal government has had no role in the creation of these academic standards.”
Nevertheless, voters (mostly we Republicans) called down curses on Common Core and encouraged our presidential candidates to repudiate it.
Nevada has substantially increased education spending and has adopted Common Core standards (perhaps they should call it something else), which will hopefully enable us to follow Massachusetts’ lead.
The rest is up to us.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.