I suppose many of you readers have seen the media reports of the lackluster performance of U. S. teens in the latest International tests of Math, Science, and Reading (PISA Test). The Guardian has a good overview here .
As a retired college math educator, I'm not surprised, unfortunately. The lack of motivation on the part of some of my students reflected the problems we face in educating our students. A teacher can run the most engaging classroom in the world, but if the student is not motivated to do homework and internalize the material, will learning take place? Have we been focusing too much on "entertaining" the students that we're not giving them a thorough dose of material?
And that's just the start of my questions! I read somewhere that the results of poverty were similar to those of brain damage and that intense remediation is needed for those students. With reports that so many students do live in poverty, I have to wonder if they're truly getting the type of remediation they need. Parental involvement has also been shown to affect achievement. Are we doing what we can to encourage that and provide students with educational role models when necessary?
Many educational critics have said that we're no longer emphasizing critical thinking. I would have to agree. Certainly we need training, but wouldn't the ability to think critically give us better employees, leaders, citizens in the long run?
America must also truly support education. We must show that we value learning and the intellect. Dr. Henry Giroux was recently on the Bill Moyers Journal program. He says we need to reclaim the value of the intellect (or something like that). This page on his site has links to his online articles which you can read. I encourage you to do so.
More good reading on the subject can be found in Malcolm Gladwell's fine book, Outliers. He makes at least two good points: 1) Persistence was often related to excelling in math (now, if we can just get THAT through to the students!) and 2) schooling does work - but those at-risk students need more of it (good luck getting that accomplished on a large scale, though).
Some discussion can be made about the diversity/ inclusiveness of some participating nations' schools. There might be a case that the U.S. has a more diverse/democratic educational system. That doesn't mean we should be content or satisfied with where we're testing. I think we must view this as a challenge that requires a concerted effort to answer. My overall conclusion is that the schools cannot do this job alone. We must as a nation seek to elevate our achievement and lift each other - especially our students - up.