While groups like StudentsFirst like to spend time demonizing teachers for the US's relatively low PISA score, there's really only one stat that addresses the problem, and no one wants to talk about it.
December 9, 2013

A group of educators with whom I'm affiliated called the recent PISA findings a kind of "Rorschach test" for education reformers.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took the release of the PISA scores as an opportunity to use the resources from his own department, funded by the American taxpayer, to choreograph a mostly negative P.R. campaign aimed at public schools and educators.

The point of Duncan’s campaign was to use “stagnating” PISA scores to spur urgency for a political agenda. He worked with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which conducts the PISA, and other groups to stage PISA Day, a media event that spent most of five hours (!) arguing that the PISA scores were reasons to get behind policies that have been branded as “reform.”

At one point in the discussion, moderator Amanda Ripley noted that none of the top scoring nations from the PISA were particularly keen on ideas the Duncan platform espouses, such as using student test sores in teacher evaluations and promoting more charter schools as a competitive parallel school system.

Duncan replied with anything but a straightforward response, hauling out familiar talking points about the need for “accountability for student learning.”[..]

Michelle Rhee took to the pages of Time to use the PISA scores as an opportunity to scold Americans about settling for “mediocrity.”

“America needs to hit bottom – 34th out of 34 – before we’ll truly embrace reform,” Rhee suggested – “reform” being, of course, the policies she helped implement in Tennessee and Washington, D.C.

She claimed, “The countries that are excelling academically are doing similar things. Setting high standards for all students. Investing in teacher effectiveness. Ensuring accountability at every level.” None of which is true.[..]

Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg corrected her on a blog site at the Washington Post, noting that Finland’s PISA scores are routinely at or near the top, yet “the Finnish approach to educational policy has stood in direct opposition to the path embraced by the United States.”

There is one stat that all these "reformers" don't want to look at because it doesn't fit their agenda of privatizing schools for profit and busting teachers unions: poverty.

The only PISA stat that matters is that no political leader ever refers to PISA scores adjusted by poverty.


Instead, we have a recurring pattern of political leaders—such as former Secretary Spellings and current Secretary Duncan—garbling data and statistics to fulfill their own political ends.

The U.S. is struggling under increasing poverty, especially among our children. But the U.S. is also struggling under a poverty of courageous and informed political leadership. The stat on that remains zero..

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