Late to the Party on PISA

I realize I’m extremely late to the party on the PISA results, but I’ve struggled to formulate my thoughts on this.  My first reaction was, “Wow, those Shanghai scores are ridiculous!”  My second reaction was, “This could be a really big deal,” a sentiment that was articulated much more clearly by Checker Finn:

“Fifty-three years after Sputnik caused an earthquake in American education by giving us reason to believe that the Soviet Union had surpassed us, China has delivered another shock … Will this news be the wake-up call that America needs to get serious about educational achievement? Will it get us beyond excuse-making, bickering over who should do what, and prioritizing adults over children?”

Does it make me a huge cynic to say, “Probably not?”  I think my third – and hopefully final – reaction to this issue is that the Sputnik analogy creates a false parallelism.  Sputnik was the manifestation of years of heightened levels of elite educational attainment.  What we see in PISA is just the beginning of heightened educational attainment.  I’d be shocked if this really causes a jolt to our disjointed – and politicized – systems of public education.  The real question, it seems to me, is “What WILL BE our Sputnik moment with China once this educational attainment manifests itself as some dramatic, and unexpected, societal/scientific development?”

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