Reading: The Real Results (We Deserve)

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Illinois reports that over 80 percent of its 4th graders are proficient in reading statewide, but according to a new report from a national education research group the real number is more like 36 percent (via Catalyst).  Go ahead, blame it all on the teachers -- or standardized testing.  I dare you. 

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  • Reading Dr. Phillips study "International Benchmarks for State Performance Standards," it brought back to me a very old disagreement I and other teachers had with Albert Shanker who was then the President of the American Federation of Teachers. Albert Shanker in 1991 was appointed by the President to the Competitiveness Policy Council. Among the subcouncils of this body were: capital formation, education, training, public infrastructure, corporate governance and financial markets, trade policy, manufacturing, and critical technologies.

    It was within this body that the idea that the US public education system was comparatively weak to the United State's leading economic competitors first became a big deal since the big concerns during the cold war over science education. If one examines the education section of Competitiveness Policy Council report from 1992 titled Building a Competitive America we see exactly the same premise that Dr. Phillips uses in the AIR report. I found the logic to be flawed when Albert Shanker argued this same issue in the 1990s and find it flawed today.

    First off the US produces so many college graduates today that our economy cannot absorb them, regardless of the overall quality of the graduates. Second in terms of competitiveness it is irrelevant whether other nations are producing better qualified high school students if their economies also cannot absorb them. Third, the United States can buy the best minds from around the world and put them to work if we have shortages in any area of the economy. The reason the US can buy these minds is very simple, we can pay more and offer families that transplant to the US a higher standard of living than can all but a very few nations of the earth match. Moreover as in the case of software engineers in India we can now get these minds even cheaper by using the internet and working on line.

    The US does not need mass numbers of highly literate and highly skilled in math workforce for the service sector, and only to a limited degree in what is left of the industrial sector in the US. Because of robotics much of industry actually requirs less skill than 30 years ago. Just look at the factories on the Mexican side of the border with many workers who have very limited educations making parts for US auto maker GM.

    The truth of the matter is that there is no real economic incentive for States, and local school districts to invest the kind of money necessary for all areas of the US to out achieve other nations of the earth. I will give you all one very good example from Dr. Phillips' study, he notes at the 4th grade level in reading Russia and Hungary are among the highest scoring nations. Being of Hungarian ancestry, I can tell you the Hungarian economy is in a state of collapse and any one of my college educated cousins would jump at the chance to emigrate to the US and work for $40,000 a year. I believe the same situation applies to Russia.

    Therefore the logic of being competitve with the nations of the earth in terms of educational test data escapes me completely. By the way there have been many studies showing numerous state tests are relatively easy. I do not think we needed yet another study to make that point. I will also guess that the new common core standards and associated tests will do little to change the situation, because if the tests are really much more difficult more students will score below standards. That in itself will not cause state's and school districts to invest more in k-12 education, because of the bigger picture of the economy I have discussed.

    Rod Estvan

  • I agree totally education is not about economic competitveness, it is about developing functional citizens. The better educated the better, but it is not an international game of test scores.

    Rod Estvan

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