Amid the consternation and condemnation of the state for implementing the Common Core education standards, critics still have to come to grips with international reality: U.S. students don’t do too well.
For all of the blather trumpeting American “exceptionalism” and denouncing anyone who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid, the numbers – just as they do with health care – tell a far different story when it comes to education.
The most recent Program for International Student Assessment, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, portrays the world’s leading superpower as not much better than the middle of the pack when it comes to student achievement.
In reading, American kids rank 17th out of the 65 nations taking the international test, a performance that – while closer to the top than the bottom – nevertheless is “not statistically significantly different from the OECD average.” Ditto for America’s 23rd place in science.
In math, it’s even worse. The U.S. ranked 31st, with a performance the OECD said is “statistically significantly below” average.
If that’s not scary enough, nearly 60 percent of U.S. college freshmen need remedial work in English or math, according to highereducation.org.
Clearly, American K-12 education is not doing the job. Against that backdrop, critics of the nationwide Common Core reform effort can come off sounding like educational Luddites.
But the reality is that they need to be listened to. When 2,500 people gather for something other than a concert or sporting event – as critics did in Kleinhans Music Hall recently – they must be reckoned with.
Fortunately for students, there appears to be room for consensus around some key points, even if educators will never concede that they should be evaluated in part on student results. That’s a bottom line the state should not back off from. Student performance, after all, is the whole point.
But the ratings also have to account for the fact that kids come to the classroom in varying states of readiness. Teachers should be judged on how students progress, not just absolute standards. And the tests need to be based on material teachers have taught, which is a sore point with critics who complain the state did things backward by implementing the tests before the Common Core curriculum was in place.
“I value standardized tests. I use them for diagnostic and prescriptive reasons,” said West Seneca Superintendent Mark Crawford, a leader of the Partnership for Smarter Schools, which sponsored the Kleinhans forum. “What we’re saying is, let’s have the standardized tests be reasonable.”
Educators also want timely feedback, so the test results can be used to help students, not stigmatize them.
None of that sounds unreasonable. As Education Commissioner John King resumes the statewide Common Core forums today in Albany, with others planned in Amherst and Jamestown – after initially canceling the meetings due to protests – it seems eminently possible to incorporate some of the critics’ suggestions without undermining the core reforms.
But flexibility cannot mean abandonment. Critics must be mindful of international reality: What the U.S. has been doing is not nearly good enough.