Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 10: Bad PISA

It’s not even July yet and I’ve finished two of the six professional development texts I want to read this summer.  During the school year, it takes me six months to get through one young adult novel.  What’s going on?  Have I gained some new ability to speed read?  Oh, yeah, I’m not teaching, coaching, dorm parenting, advising, manning a table in the dining hall, proctoring study hall, running weekend trips, or roaming campus right now.  I have oodles of free time.  I love summer vacation.

So, I just finished one of the most insightful books about the state of global education.  World Class Learners by Yong Zhao was amazing.  He made so many points that ring true for me.  While the road map countries around the world are using to educate their students is upside down, it doesn’t have to be.  We have the ability to turn it around.  We need to get students owning their learning through autonomy and allow for creativity to be fostered.  That makes a ton of sense.  We can’t continue shoving a national curriculum down the throats of our students expecting different results.  We need to break free.  After finishing that text, I was ready to take over the Board of Education for the world.

Then I started my next book, The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley.  I try very hard as a teacher to inspire open-mindedness in my classroom.  I want my students to see life from all perspectives.  However, I often find it challenging to take my own advice.  Right away, the author started talking about the PISA test and how important the results were.  No, no, no…  Standardized, high-stakes test put the national curriculum back in the limelight where we don’t want it.  We need to stop testing our students and allow them to play, explore, and learn.  We don’t need to collect data, we need to effectively support our students as they grow into global citizens.  We can’t afford to allow a hidden agenda and a prescribed curriculum, even if it does test critical thinking skills, to run the show and tell countries and schools how and on what standards to educate students.  The number of innovators and creative problem solvers coming from the countries scoring highest on the PISA test is still low as it has always been.  Even though the US scores low on the PISA test, we have inventors and creative thinkers popping out of the wood work left and right.  Clearly, test results mean nothing.  But, we can’t allow these results to change schools.  We need to allow students to change schools.  If students are the ones learning, why are we telling them what to do and how to do it?  Nueroscience research tells us that people learn best when they are engaged and see the relevance in what they are learning.  So, why are we not allowing students to learn what engages and interests them?

So, yes, I’m a bit biased and I’m only on page 26 of The Smartest Kids in the World.  I want to give it a chance, sort of.  Perhaps her thesis is that the PISA test is a load of malarky and needs to be ignored.  I’m hoping the punchline is something like that, but the realist in me worries that my preconceived notions about this text may be accurate.  But, just as Joe Dirt often said, “You gotta keep on keepin’ on.”


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