Few things generate more debate and controversy than attempts to measure educational achievement. It should come as no surprise that the release this week of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment results (or PISA) by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was immediately parsed, diced and manipulated to fit the agendas of dozens of interest groups and organizations.
The reason is that students in the United States once again scored poorly against their peers in other nations of the world. U.S. results, in fact, haven’t budged on these tests in a decade, despite a patchwork quilt of reform efforts from coast to coast.
It would be wrong to overreact to these results, but it would be worse to cast them aside as meaningless. They offer a candid look at public education that doesn’t fit neatly into any one interest group’s agenda. Everyone can find a reason to feel uncomfortable.
For example, the results clearly indicate that per pupil expenditures do not translate into better results. Neither does class size. Those are two elements at the core of virtually every legislative session in which teacher unions argue for more funding. Only four nations spend more per student than the United States, and yet U.S. students performed roughly on the same level as those in the Slovak Republic, which spends about half as much.