Friday, February 14, 2014

La Isla PISA

Don’t ask. 

I’m sitting here listening to La Isla Bonita so I decided to title this after the Madonna song while having no qualms in acknowledging that the PISA test is not beautiful, although I’m sure there is a metaphor somewhere in there involving an island, probably one involving Doctor Moreau.  

PISA is the Programme for International Student Assessment; a test given to various countries around the world to measure you up against global competition and get the local population pissed off that you don’t measure up to another country you once thought was inferior.  China is the exception of course.  In China the world is inferior because Shanghai actually does better than everyone else in testing.  Never mind that it’s a tremendously wealthy city and that the rest of the country isn’t really counted in the testing.  Just don’t worry about it.  Xi insists. 

Apparently there is a movement that is fairly annoyed that teachers don’t really care about PISA results.  Mike Tucker says he found the excuse

“Educators say that….. there are very few people in Asia who are winning Nobel prizes and starting game-changing businesses like Apple, Oracle, Google or Microsoft.  Maybe being good at the kinds of things that PISA measures is just not that important.” 

Now wait a minute.  Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize for something-or-other, and Edward Snowden getting nominated for being sniveling little coward pretty much kills any Nobel viability.  I sure as hell don’t stand with that argument.

Actually, the funny thing about media hacks that take digs at teachers is that they think they have the answers without really listening to teachers.  Take for instance what Tucker thinks the next-generation of business is looking for:

“What we are looking at in the people who started and built these organizations are people who are both highly educated and innovative and creative.  And that is exactly who they are looking for in the people they hire to work for them.”

Interesting.  See anything missing?  Work ethic?  Initiative?  Yeah I read the whole article and what I see that’s missing is the thing that teachers are trying to tell you is missing from the whole of society.  Sure, you have the occasional fuddy-duddies that preach Montessori creativity and feel-good education on the fringe.  But for the most part a vast majority of teachers won’t deny the importance of the PISA scores, they’ll tell you that society doesn’t want to listen to the solutions. 

“Are we falling behind as a country in education not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions, but because of our culture today: too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel?”

That’s from Tom Friedman’s column from a few weeks ago.  Notice that he actually mentions, you know, work.  Read the article.  Look at the teachers that are frustrated with dumbing down of standards, the lack of independent work, the apathy of parents, and society’s real lack of desire to solve the problem.  It’s not teachers that don’t care about PISA.  NOBODY CARES ABOUT PISA.  The only people that care are those that want ratings, and they dump the story the second a car chase occurs on I-5 in Los Angeles. 

Know what the Finlands, Singapores, and Shanghais all have in common?  It’s not the boring curriculum.  It’s not unions, tenure, pay, or working conditions.  It’s not poverty or wealth either.  It’s simply that those cultures are industrious enough in their work ethic to care about education.  There is faith in knowledge, pride in workmanship, and a culture that puts value on hard work and intellect.  The United States has become a culture of “easy.”  Being a Kardashian is easy.  Taking a course using MOOCs is easy.  High school is supposed to be easy.  Grades should be a given.  And society believes this!  Tom Friedman even mentions the “they are not allowed to fail” attitude that is prevalent in education.  There is desire for success without work or fear of failure, so the successes now are hollow and without any real accomplishment. 

Teachers care about PISA but are used to the same old, same old in the solution department.  We want to produce excellent students that will be successful in the future.  But to think that we can wave a magic wand and replace hard work with instant success is idiotic.  And that’s what PISA is telling the United States.  Stop doing it the easy way.  It’s not working.     

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