Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Education Week op ed gets EVERYTHING wrong

Sent to Education Week

I list here Christopher Cross' claims in his column,"How to Confront America's International Skills Gap," (June 24, 2015) and my responses to each.
1.    Claim: American students score lower than many other countries on tests of literacy. 
Response: Study after study has shown that when we control for poverty, American students do quite well on international tests.
2.    Claim: According to a study done by OECD, Americans with graduate degrees do worse on international tests than those with graduate degrees in other countries.
Response: The report showed that Americans with MA's and research degrees do not do as well as some others on the PIAAC numeracy scale.  The report did not indicate what field that MA was in. Even so, only MA holders in three countries (out of 17) did significantly better than American MA degree holders.
3.    Claim: Companies are unable to find qualified employees, especially in high-tech fields.
Response: Several studies have reported that there is a surplus of scientifically trained job candidates, not a shortage.
4.    Claim: The solution to these problems is to not abandon higher standards and accountability.
Response: Even if these problems were real, there is no evidence that higher standards and more tests lead to greater achievement.

Stephen Krashen

Control for poverty: Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Berliner, D. 2011. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. Tienken, C. 2010. Common core state standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Phi Record 47 (1): 14-17. Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012.

Surplus: Salzman, H. & Lowell, B. L. 2007. Into the Eye of the Storm: Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education, Quality, and Workforce Demand. Available at SSRN:
Salzman, H. and Lowell, L. 2008. Making the grade. Nature 453 (1): 28-30.Salzman, H. 2012. No Shortage of Qualified American STEM Grads (5/25/12) Teitelbaum, M. 2014:,0,120851.story#axzz2zYCn7SCA; Weismann, J. 2013. More Ph.D's than the market can absorb:The Ph.D Bust: America's Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts. The Atlantic, Feb 20, 2013.

Higher standards and tests: Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). OECD.'Amrein, A.L. & Berliner, D.C. (2002, March 28). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved [date] from

Note: The OECD reported that American students did not do well even when scores were controlled for parental education.  Berliner, however, has argued that income, not parental education is an appropriate measure of SES.
Berliner, D. 2014. Criticism via Sleight of Hand. Krashen, S. 2014. Do American rich kids do worse on international tests than rich kids from other countries?
Original article:

How to Confront America's International Skills Gap
By Christopher T. Cross
Description: rticle Tools
Are we unwittingly headed toward an era of education disarmament?
As one school year ends and we look forward to a new year, the national news has been switching from coverage of education issues like testing and the common core to Iran and wars around the world. I suddenly had the thought that we might be risking unilateral education disarmament as we watch policymakers engage in endless debates about foreign policy, while not attending to a looming domestic crisis.
Uppermost in my mind is a report issued earlier this year by the Educational Testing Service, based on data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international think tank, ranking adult skills in 22 developed nations. The data should give us all pause as we consider the future course of education policy.
Using data from the recent Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, the OECD reports that in literacy the United States outscored only Spain and Italy among the 22 participating nations. That means that adults in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Estonia, Australia, the Czech Republic, Canada, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and France all did better than adults in the United States.
“How will our students at least match the skill and knowledge levels of our economic competitors if we do not raise expectations and standards?”
In numeracy, we tied with Spain and Italy for last place, behind those same nations, plus England, Italy, and Spain, which all scored better than adults in the United States. Worse is that America’s young adults, ages 16 to 24, also scored at these terrible levels. And although one might assume that the younger populations would best older adults, that’s not the case.
For those who believe college-degree holders do well, U.S. graduates with bachelor’s degrees outscored their international peers only in Poland and Spain. At even higher educational levels, those with graduate degrees, the United States is in the bottom rank, with only Ireland, Poland, and Spain falling below our graduates.
All in all, this is really bad news, especially when coupled with the rising opposition to the adoption of standards that require U.S. students to learn at higher levels and have their knowledge and skills measured against those standards.
There are those who would say that none of this matters, that the U.S. education system need not be as good as those in other nations because our economy is doing just fine. The reality is far different. As those who have studied the issue point out and as people who fill job openings discover, U.S. companies are facing a shortage of high-skilled domestic talent. This has resulted in an ever-increasing flow of work going to developing nations, especially in high-tech fields.
Historians and economists cite, as a major factor in the United States’ becoming a world power in the 20th century, our education system moving from enrolling few students in high school to nearly universal enrollment. In fact, for decades the United States led the world in the percentage of high school graduates. Today, it ranks 21st among leading nations. Denmark, Portugal, Slovenia, and Germany, among others, far exceed us. Even more alarming is that minority students, students from poor households, English-language learners, and those with disabilities are almost always below the national averages in both academic achievement and graduation, yet collectively they represent what will become the major portion of the future U.S. labor force.
So, while we contemplate abandoning higher standards and eliminating assessments that provide valuable data showing us what our students are learning, we need to ask: How will we know which students and student groups need extra time, teaching, and resources? How will our students at least match the skill and knowledge levels of our economic competitors if we do not raise expectations and standards? How will we assure the continuation of our democracy if citizens are unable to analyze complex information and data when they vote and participate in civic affairs?
What does the outcry against standardized tests really mean? Each state demands that drivers pass a standardized test. Doctors, accountants, and lawyers cannot practice their professions without proving their competency. As Roy Romer, a former governor of Colorado and a former Los Angeles superintendent, is fond of pointing out, he had to pass a standardized test to get a pilot’s license. Yes, we have relied too much on fill-in-the-bubble tests, but are we willing to invest in more-sophisticated exams?
“How will we assure the continuation of our democracy if citizens are unable to analyze complex information and data when they vote and participate in civic affairs?”  
Parents must accept the fact that students today may well be taught math that is more advanced than what they learned in the past, and that helping with even middle school homework may be either impossible or a major struggle. Do we want to lower our expectations when we are far behind the international pack?

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