PISA: It’s Poverty Not Stupid

By admin - Last updated: Thursday, January 6, 2023 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

From The Principal Difference (publication of the National Association of Secondary School Principals)

“There are three kinds of lies; lies, damn lies, and statistics.”-Mark Twain
The release of the 2009 PISA results this past week has created quite a stir and has provided ample fodder for public school bashers and doomsayers who further their own philosophical and profit-motivated agendas by painting all public schools as failing. For whatever reason, these so-called experts, many of whom have had little or no actual exposure to public schools, refuse to paint an accurate picture of the state of education.
Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, should be providing the nation with a proper vision and focus for public education. He knows our challenges all too well. He confirmed that he gets it when he recently wrote me saying, “We must build a culture nationally where great educators … choose to work with children and communities who need the most help.” I believe his message is sincere and heartfelt and it is spot on. However, overstating a problem in order to increase the sense of urgency around school improvement is just as bad as understating the problem.
This week, Duncan had a golden opportunity to use the PISA results to provide focus for our education efforts and to point us in the right direction. Instead, he dug himself deeper into the pseudo-reformers’ hole-more charter schools, more reliance on competition and free-market strategies, more testing, more use of test scores to evaluate teachers, more firing of principals and teachers, more closing of low-scoring schools-when he said, “the PISA scores released this past Tuesday were “a massive wake-up call,” because the scores show American students holding relatively steady in the middle of the pack of the developed nations taking the international exam.
There is, however, someone who recognizes that the data is being misinterpreted.  NEAToday published remarks from National Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director, Dr. Gerald N. Tirozzi, that have taken “a closer look at how the U.S. reading scores on PISA compared with the rest of the world’s, overlaying it with the statistics on how many of the tested students are in the government’s free and reduced lunch program for students below the poverty line.” Tirozzi pointed out, “Once again, we’re reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome.” Tirozzi demonstrates the correlation between socio-economic status and reading by presenting the PISA scores in terms of individual American schools and poverty.  While the overall PISA rankings ignore such differences in the tested schools, when groupings based on the rate of free and reduced lunch are created, a direct relationship is established.
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