Our friends at BASIS Independent School share their thoughts and expertise on the positive role global benchmarking can have on our kids.
In December, it was difficult to miss headlines reporting U.S. students had fallen behind global peers based on the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results. The grim data left parents and educators wondering how to interpret the findings and what it meant for the educational experience of their students.
Recently, private school BASIS Independent Brooklyn brought together panelists at their Red Hook campus to talk through not just the stark numbers but also what lessons can be drawn from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) results in education.
Cutting right to the positives of what makes for a high performing school or country, Dr. Tue Halgreen, Senior Policy Analyst from the OECD, the group that administers PISA, identified three patterns:
- Education is very highly valued and respected in society
- Equality is part of the education policy, so there is a firm belief that all students can achieve and that with hard work anyone can do well
- Teachers are highly-valued and well trained in their areas
Mr. Halgreen also noted the most successful schools have teachers actually teaching students the theory, concepts, and core content of traditional academic disciplines. He told the audience that without that content and conceptual foundation the students cannot grasp the systems with which they are experimenting in project-based learning and are less likely to be able to see how to apply knowledge in the real world.
“Project-based Learning takes many definitions and many forms, dependent upon the school and school’s approach,” said Hadley Ruggles of BASIS Independent Brooklyn. “In my experience, the best project-based learning always couples content knowledge with application. Students do not simply memorize definitions; they see those concepts in action!”
“For instance, students may learn the definition of an ‘acid’ and a ‘base,’” continued Ruggles. “However, it is not until a student has the ability to create a battery, that she may truly understand what distinguishes an acid from a base. Knowledge is only useful if students have the ability to apply it.”
Dr. Michael Block, the Co-Founder of BASIS.ed schools, commented to the panel that he started the networks of schools on the observation that international students in his university classes were better prepared than their American counterparts, who were often more creative and expressive. OECD and PISA results were therefore used to benchmark what he had observed in classes and help guide curriculum with a model that helped maintain the mentoring and creativity seen in the American school system.
Below is an overview of U.S. PISA scores released in December 2016:
- MATH: U.S. average score was 470, below the international average of 490. To put that data in perspective average scores ranged from 564 with Singapore to 328 in the Dominican Republic.
- SCIENCE: U.S. average score was 496, which approximately same as the international average of 493. Average scores ranged from 556 in Singapore to 332 in the Dominican Republic.
- READING: U.S. average score was 497 slightly higher than the international average of 493. Average scores ranged from 535 in Singapore to 347 in Lebanon.
Looking at the trends over time, U.S. average PISA scores in math have been on the decline since 2009, and scores in reading and science have been flat during that same time period.
In positive news, science scores among U.S. disadvantaged students have improved. This as well as some other indicators suggest the U.S. has made significant improvement in equity in science education.
BASIS began as a visionary venture in 1998 when Dr. Michael and Olga Block, world-class academics in the field of economics, found that students in their classrooms who were educated outside of the United States were not only more prepared for the challenges faced in college than their American counterparts, but were simply “better” at being students. Digging further, they found that low expectations among American students led to a lack of curricular substance in U.S. classrooms. Creating a brand new school in Tucson, Arizona, they discovered that American students thrived when challenged, rising to and surpassing the best students in the world.