Education advocates in New York State have a full plate going into the next legislative session. Students in the United States ranked 36th among nations in mathematics, reading and science, according to the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment. The test, given to half a million 15- and 16-year-olds worldwide every three years, is regarded as a leading survey of education systems a snapshot of the global state of education. Young people in Shanghai scored highest of all tested.
Guilderland School Superintendent Marie Wiles has issues with the "nation-to-nation" comparison. She argues top performer Shanghai is not a country but a city. She wonders exactly what is being compared. "When you look at the US as a whole, we have a tremendous amount of diversity, both in economic status and in the variety of folks from different nations and races and cultures and so on. We have a real melting pot here. And we know we have a tremendous achievement gap, particularly when we look at students who live in poverty."
Some observers say Americans have become too focused on testing, and not educating. Andrew Campanella is president of National School Choice Week. He believes competition among schools is the key to enhancing students' educational opportunities. "When kids are not learning to add and subtract, multiply and divide, and when you look at other exams, not learning to read nearly at the levels that they need to be able to in order to compete for jobs in the 21st century economy because they're not just competing against kids in the United States but kids around the world, you have to wonder what we can do to catalyze reform in the system."
Next month, Campanella will lead school choice supporters on a cross-country, whistle-stop train and bus tour from Newark to San Francisco, promoting open enrollment for traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schooling, private school choice, online learning, and homeschooling.
Michael Borges, the Executive Director at the NYS Association of School Business Officials, takes a different stance. "The latest rankings just showed that we need to continue with the rollout and implementation of the Common Core, because the Common Core will help us address some of the shortcomings identified in the latest international tests. We need to raise our standards. We need to raise the ability of our students to compete in the global economy. This is just further proof that we need to stay the course."
Lisa Rudley is a Parent & Founding Member of NYS Allies for Public Education. She says the uproar against standardized testing is deafening but the state isn't listening. "We have reached out to the governor before to ask for John King's resignation because we're very concerned about his leadership. And we're also now calling on the governor to step up. He's distanced himself from this education issue. And, while, probably jurisdiction-wise he doesn't have legislative authority over the New York State Education Department, the legislators do. They have the authority to minimize or expand the regent's power, but uh, the governor who... this is his state and there are tremendous amounts of people that are concerned."
Rudley insists more testing has not created better outcomes. She says the main issues are funding and poverty. "We see that there is a whole force to data-mine and profile our children and we're testing software and testing materials that are being sold. I believe it's an 8 billion dollar industry at this point."
Borges agrees Common Core may have overwhelmed parents, teachers and administrators, though he does not necessarily subscribe to the idea of relieving Commissioner King of his duties. "There are legitimate concerns, but I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think the Common Core is the right move, and we need to tweak it and we need to improve upon it but I think we need to just move forward with it."
Upstate Republican Assemblyman Pete Lopez serves on the Education Committee: he says the shifting sands that education has been subjected to over the last five years has taken its toll. "so between budget cutbacks and regents reform and race to the top and all these other elements... our goal, an really our function is really to try to stabilize education and ensure that our young people have the best, most affordable education available.”
Lopez says that when the Assembly convenes in January, lawmakers will be looking at "a long line of things to work on," but education will be front and center.
A CNN blogger pointed out that the United States has never ranked at the top of international education tests, since we began comparing countries in 1964, yet has been the dominant economic and innovative force in the world during the entire time.