Every three years, 15-year-old students around the world take a test called the PISA, and every three years Republicans and neoliberals see our kids’ scores and scream about America’s “failing” schools. Since the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last held the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests in 2012, we’re due to hear that high-pitched shrieking sound in (countdown) 10, 9, 8…
The problem with our “failing” schools? Republicans love ranting about overpaid teachers who don’t work hard enough and need to be “held accountable;” lazy welfare parents who don’t care about their children’s education; and high levels of per-student spending that yield poor results.
The solution for our “failing” schools? To fix our “failing” schools, Republicans and neoliberals demand education “reform,” as they have for the past three decades. That’s double-speak for slashing budgets, privatizing education, busting teachers’ unions, closing neighborhood schools, forcing students to take more tests (created by for-profit companies, of course), setting unrealistic “improvement” goals for these tests, and then punishing schools when students fail to meet their goals.
Alas, these “reforms” aren’t working. They’re making our “failing” schools worse.
The truth about America’s “failing” schools.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) pored through OECD and PISA testing data, and put together a fascinating video report that reveals the truth behind the numbers. You see, the real reason for America’s failing schools is our staggeringly high 23 percent child poverty rate. Sadly, this is one of the few areas in which the US leads the developed world.
The reason for America’s “failing” schools: The poverty rate for US students is far higher than in other OECD countries. Chart: American Federation of Teachers.
When we break down US schools and compare them to countries with similar poverty rates, US students’ test scores compare favorably across the board. Sadly, some areas in the US have such high poverty rates that only three other OECD countries offer similar poverty levels for comparison.
Oh, and that thing about the US spending more on education per student than most other countries?
Failing Schools: US spending on education per student leads most OECD countries… or does it? Chart: American Federation of Teachers
When you subtract the when you subtract the insanely high costs of a college education — which most countries provide free or at a low cost — the US drops to the middle. Furthermore, the US fails to distribute its per-student spending equally. In fact, the US is only one of four countries — in company with Israel, Turkey, and Slovenia — where economically disadvantaged students have HIGHER teacher-to-student ratios.
Failing Schools: When we subtract the ridiculously high costs of higher education, US spending per student drops significantly Chart: American Federation of Teachers.
The OECD countries with higher PISA test scores are the ones that do better with reducing test score variations caused by socioeconomic status, so children from poorer families get more of a fair shot. The US fails students from economically disadvantaged families by eight percent, compared higher-performing countries like Japan and Canada.
Failing schools? The OECD countries with higher PISA test scores are the ones that do a better job with reducing test score variations caused by poverty rates. Chart: American Federation of Teachers.
Oh…. and about those overpaid, under-worked teachers? So-called education reformers never mention that US teacher pay ranks a stingy 22nd out of 27 countries. Plus, salaries for even our most experienced teachers — after 15 years of teaching — rank among the lowest out of all the OECD countries, as shown below.
Failing schools? The fact that US schools pay their teachers so poorly may have a lot to do with it. Chart: American Federation of Teachers
Furthermore, US teachers spend FAR more time teaching per year than teachers in other countries. As for those afternoons, holidays, vacations, and summers they supposedly have “off?” That’s when they meet with students and parents, collaborate, have meetings, prepare lessons, and attend classes, training, and conferences.
Failing schools? America’s teachers spend far more time in the classroom than in other countries. Chart: American Federation of Teachers.
Oh, and about those evil teachers’ unions? Japan, Finland, and other top-scoring countries just happen to have the strongest teachers unions. In fact, the OECD says that the higher ranking a country has, “the more likely” it is “that country is working constructively with its unions.
So, as the American Federation of Teachers’ video concludes:
“Maybe it’s not the parents, the teachers, or the unions. Maybe we’re not doing the right things.”