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IAP NEWS UPDATE December 17th – December 23rd 2010

Publication: CNN International Title: Why American students lag behind Date: December 17th, 2010 Author: Mike Honda Website: Survey: PISA

One of the greatest lessons to be learned from the Program for International Student Assessment report released this month is that equity matters.

Others might argue that economic competitiveness is the real issue here, considering that assessments of American 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading, math and science rank low among the 34 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which performed the study.

America's performance reveals an "average" showing, with dangerous disparities: The 113-point gap in math literacy between the United States and No. 1 spot-holder Shanghai-China is the equivalent of more than two school years of schooling, a statistic sure to ruffle America's economically competitive feathers.

There's more to the PISA results, however, than mere number or rank. The real lesson is less about economic competitiveness and more about a country's commitment to an equity-centered education.

While school systems across the globe are challenged with meeting the needs of students from disadvantaged backgrounds -- be it low socio-economic status, single parent households, or

foreign-born parents -- the top PISA performers managed to still provide an equal, high-quality education to each child attending their schools. Whether it was Canada's commitment to meet the needs of their immigrant students or China's policy shift to a more inclusive school system, the best-performing countries demonstrated the power of setting high expectations for all students and investing in resources, teachers, and leaders to help students meet these high expectations, regardless of their family background or geographic location.

PISA revealed that for too many students, their socio-economic background can predict their success. Top performing countries, like Korea and Hong Kong-China, were able to break away from this international trend, doubling the average for the number of disadvantaged students excelling at school.

The evidence presented by PISA is compelling. The commitment by the top-ranking countries to serve each child's needs translated not only into a fair and accessible education system, but one that clearly prepares its citizens with competitive 21st century knowledge and skills. Given equal educational opportunities to learn and achieve -- regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic level -- students in these top-performing countries were able to overcome barriers to achievement and excel at much higher rates. We must do the same here in America. PISA measures of educational equity showed that impoverished and racially isolated schools in the United States simply did not measure up to essential conditions of equity.

Children attending such schools did not receive equal financing, equal access to qualified teachers, or adequate instructional resources. In fact, of the 34 OCED nations, America is one of only four countries that gives the advantage of access to more teachers to higher-income schools.

These facets of inequity in America's public schools have robbed students of their right to an equal, quality education. As a result, there is a disparity in academic performance that falls along economic and racial lines. For too many students in America, education is not the great equalizer, as it is purported to be.

These lessons regarding equity, provided by PISA's top performers, reflect a paradigm shift, not unlike the one I called for in the National Commission on Equity and Excellence, to be launched by the U.S. Department of Education in January 2011. Creating equity, and thus excellence, in our education system requires a plan of action that challenges our perception of who is capable of achieving at high levels, evaluates the individual needs of the students and their schools, and

responds with strategic investment that ensures every child in America has access to qualified teachers, rigorous curriculum, tools and resources to meet high expectations, and more.

The takeaway is this: Prioritize equity in education. Our students deserve it. Our nation needs it. Our future depends on it.

Publication: Fox Business Title: China Trumps U.S. in Scores, But Lacks White-Collar Jobs Date: December 21st, 2010 Author: Jennifer Booton Website: Survey: PISA If you think China’s rapid economic climb and looming threat over the U.S. may be a fad, think again. The country's debut in a recent study shows an educational system that far exceeds those in the West, cementing the view that the economic powerhouse is here to stay, and offering troubling news for the U.S. as it struggles to rebound from its worst economic downturn in eight decades. Some observers, however, say China's overabundance of qualified recent graduates is bittersweet for the Asian giant, which has found itself unable to provide enough white-collar jobs, leading to a recent surge in graduate-filled slums. “Educational strength is a two-edged sword in developing economies,” said Dr. Marshall W. Meyer, a professor of management and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who focuses on China. “While their educational system may surpass the US right now on paper, China is not necessarily sitting comfortably knowing the wide gap between jobs and the educated unemployed,” he said. Educational Disparities That’s not to say China’s scores aren’t impressive. The Asian behemoth swept the top results in all three categories of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment [PISA] by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD]. The study's 60-plus participating countries represent nine-tenths of the world economy.

One of China’s three tested cities, Shanghai, a sprawling area of some 20 million situated on the country’s eastern coast, scored the highest comparatively in math, science and reading, with a mean score of 600, 575 and 556, respectively, widely trumping average OECD scores of 496, 501 and 493. Fifteen-year-olds in China’s other tested cites, Hong Kong and Macau, also boasted strong comparative scores, while more than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking to solve complex problems, trumping an OECD average of just 3%. The U.S. came straggling much farther down the list, under some 30 economies in math and 22 in science, with its scores bordering the OECD average. Of course, the three Chinese cities are not wholly representative of the country, particularly one that has more rural than urban residents and an “enormous variation in the quality of education” between the two, according to Dr. Nicholas R. Lardy, the Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Still, Lardy said that at its best, the Chinese educational system is “probably superior to ours” on average. Kevin Miller, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who studies Chinese education, attributed China’s success to its focus on mathematics and teaching methods that focus more on each individual student. Teachers in Beijing, for example, only provide some 30% of explanations in the classroom, allowing students to individually work through problems and explain the answers aloud one-by-one, while teachers in America offer a striking 80%. The Chinese method provides students a “deeper, richer understanding,” Miller said. Also, Chinese students are usually more challenged and able to pay attention to lessons more easily than those in America, according to Miller, who has extensively studied Chinese and American educational disparities.

Intensifying Competition - A Threat to the U.S. The OECD believes policy makers can use PISA findings to gauge the knowledge and skills of students in their country in comparison with those around the world, allowing them to focus on improving educational policies in an effort to boost their economy in the long-term. The organization’s secretary general, Angel Gurría, said the outcomes are a “strong predictor for future economic growth.” GDP per capita influences only 6% of educational success, while the other 94% are reflected in public policy, according to Andreas Schleicher, head of the indicators and analysts division at the OECD’s Directorate for Education. “In a global economy, the yardstick for success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but how education systems perform internationally,” he said, adding that the findings pose both a warning and an opportunity for the low scorers. At a time when global competition continues to intensify, lower scoring advanced economies like the United States are warned that they will not always have human capital that is superior to other parts of the world, and therefore need to maintain certain levels to keep up with changing demands, according to Schleicher. “These are daunting challenges,” he said, and devising education policies that meet them will become increasingly difficult as schools strive to prepare students for “jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented and to solve economic and social challenges that we do not yet know will arise.”

Success, he said, will go to those countries that can swiftly adapt to change, as China has shown over the past decade. America’s education problem could pose future consequences if it is not soon overhauled, Miller said, particularly as emerging economies like China continue their rapid economic and educational climb. Luckily, he said, America’s system is in the early stages of a much needed turnaround, especially as teachers start to implement new methods that parallel the Chinese system, and individual states raise standards.

Ant Tribe - Problems for China Thomas P.M. Barnett, the chief analyst at Wikistrat and author of Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, said there is currently a huge overestimation among American masses over the extent of China’s power. “We really need to think about its issues in relation to its strengths,” he recently told FOX Business. Despite China’s sweeping PISA results and its rise in the global economy, the country now struggles with an overabundance of high-qualified recent graduates and hardly enough high-paying professional jobs, leading to the recent surge of urban slums filled with young, unemployed diploma holders, a group dubbed the ant tribe. The massive supply of qualified workers against a respectively thinning white-collar job market has caused the ant tribe's value to decline, an issue evidenced in salary role reversals over the last few years. Where the average starting salary for migrant laborers grew by about 80% from 2003 to 2009, those for recent graduates remained unchanged, according to the New York Times. “China has really improved the quality of its work force, but on the other hand competition has never been more serious,” Peng Xizhe, dean of social development and public policy at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Times. While it is too soon to judge whether the issue could grow into a more serious threat, Meyer said it is unlikely Chinese universities will be allowed to admit fewer students or that job-creation initiatives will prove successful enough. Over the long-term, China may be able to transition from “manufacturing to a high-tech/service economy,” Meyer said, however it will take some time and will come at the expense of short-term GDP growth.

Publication: The Hindu Title: Lets not worry too much about Shanghai Date: December 23rd, 2010 Author: Vanessa L. Fong and Philip G. Altbach

Website: Survey: PISA The results of the recent PISA test, which ranked Shanghai at the top of the list for science and mathematics, provide some interesting lessons for the U.S. and other countries. In the present environment, Americans face plenty of concerns about educational achievement. This country now ranks in the lower middle of the scores globally and, thus, will have problems competing in the world knowledge economy. America's steady decline reflects not mainly a deterioration of a never highly robust K-12 education system, but rather the improvements in other countries. This situation is alarming because the global economy does not stand still. The recent PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exam ranked Shanghai, China, at the top of the list for both science and mathematics. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls the PISA results a “wake-up call.� Certainly America is sub-par when compared to many of our competitors. Yet, the results in Shanghai provide some interesting lessons, positive and negative, for the United States and other countries. Education crazy Multiple factors contribute to China's obsession with education. Education has long been seen as a key path to upward social mobility and professional success in China. A system encouraging youth to strive toward upward mobility by performing well on imperial civil-service exams was integral to China's culture and political economy for almost 2000 years, before it was replaced by modern college and high school entrance exams in the early 20th century. Political instability and rapid social change have interfered with normal social mobility. As a result, most Chinese children believe they can be upwardly or downwardly mobile regardless of their family background. China's one-child policy has also intensified parental investment in and aspirations for each child. However, in addition, economic reforms have increased the stakes of educational achievement by enhancing socioeconomic inequalities. Other stressors include increasing uncertainty about whether Chinese families will have sufficient pensions and health insurance benefits. Further, rapidly inflating costs of housing, education, and medical care add the pressures. Almost every urban Chinese child is an only child who will eventually need to get a job that can support many dependents. Most such jobs, however, are only available to the small minority who score high enough on entrance exams to be accepted by key-point college-prep high schools and then highly ranked universities. Many Chinese youth cannot even get entry to any high school or college. According to UNESCO's 2008 statistics from China, only 76 per cent of high school-aged teenagers attended high school, and only 23 per cent of college-aged people in China were enrolled in college. If only children lose out in the competition for upward mobility, their parents will have no other children to fall back on; and an impoverished only child will have no siblings to turn to for help. A single-minded obsession with educational achievement is inevitable when every child desperately wants to be a winner in an educational system where success is limited. Admission to high schools and colleges depends on performance in the college entrance exam and the high school entrance exam but not on grades given by teachers or on extracurricular activities. Consequently, students, parents, and teachers focus almost entirely on preparing students for entrance exams, which increasingly emphasise the critical thinking skills tested by the PISA as well as the concentration and memorisation skills — the previous focus of such exams. From first grade onward, students stay in school all day, developing skills and taking practice exams to prepare them for high school and college entrance exams. They are constantly pressured by parents and teachers to perform

as well as possible on tests. Evenings, weekends, and vacations are spent on homework, with intensive help from parents, relatives, and (for wealthier families) private tutors and cram schools. Unlike American teachers, whose role in assigning grades that determine students' ability to enter college makes them gatekeepers, Chinese teachers serve mainly as coaches, doing everything they can to help students attain high scores on entrance exams. Chinese teachers whose students succeed are rewarded not only with gratification for the positive result and a job well done but also with prestige, promotions, merit pay, jobs at better schools, opportunities to earn large fees as private tutors, and a lifetime of valuable connections with powerful former students who remain grateful for their help. The Shanghai context The factors that make Chinese children education crazy are especially strong in Shanghai, which has the highest costs of living, socioeconomic inequalities, educational attainment, and adherence to the one-child policy in China. According to the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, in 2006 almost all Shanghai children attended school from kindergarten through 12th grade, 55 per cent of high school-age students attended college-prep high schools, and 82 per cent of college-prep high school graduates enrolled in college. Shanghai is China's commercial capital and wealthiest city, with almost 20 million permanent residents. It has long been a magnet for highly motivated people seeking upward mobility and success, including top teachers from across China. Shanghai parents put their kids in preschools that teach English, math, Chinese, and other skills from the time they are toddlers, and spend as much time and money as possible for their children to attend the best preschools, primary schools, junior high schools, and colleges. Rural schools in central and western China, in contrast, have trouble attracting and retaining qualified teachers. Children in poor rural Chinese villages spend much of their time doing farm work and chores, often cannot afford books and school fees or the extra tutoring and cram schools many urban children get, and are tempted to drop out of school to pursue low-skill work opportunities in cities like Shanghai. The largest educational inequalities in China are not between different groups within cities, as in the United States but, rather, between cities and rural villages — many of which lack electricity and running water. According to the China Population Information Center, 53 per cent of China's population was rural in 2009. Test obsessed The timing of the international PISA test is particularly fortuitous for Shanghai students. It happens that at the end of ninth grade (when most students are 15 — the age at which the PISA test is given), a high-stakes test in China determines which high school a student will attend. In many ways, the high school entrance test is the most important exam of a Chinese citizen's life. Children are less likely to have more than one chance at the high school entrance examination, both because of bureaucratic obstacles to allowing students to repeat the examination and because parents and children fear that children who enter high school at much older ages than their peers may face devastating social stigma. In Shanghai, as in most of China, every high school has a particular rank in a pyramidal hierarchy. High school entrance exam scores determine which high school a student can attend. The top elite collegeprep high schools have the most funding, attract the best teachers and students, admit only the highest-scoring students, and prepare them to attend the top universities in China and abroad. Students who attend lower-ranked college-prep high schools are rarely able to gain admission to top universities, though most can get into lower-ranked regular and adult education colleges. Students who study at vocational high schools instead of college-prep high schools spend much of high school preparing for low-paid service and technical jobs instead of college entrance exams, and some do not even learn enough skills to qualify for the adult education colleges for which they are eligible. What does it all mean?

It is not at all surprising that Shanghai students scored so well. They are primed for test taking and competitive schooling. They have spent a lot of time studying and have had great family support — and pressure — for education. One should also keep in mind that Shanghai does not typify China — as much of the country lags far behind the prosperous coastal cities. The Shanghai results show that investment in education, by parents, society, and the students themselves yields results on tests and in the acquisition of knowledge. Family support is a key factor. Everyone realises that educational achievement is central to an individual's success and that there are few “second chances.” It is in some ways a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” mentality in the schools. Some observers in China have recognised that lockstep test-oriented education may not produce young people well adapted to the complexities of the new knowledge economy. Liberal education is being added to the university curriculum in a few places, and test obsession is being criticised. Does the U.S. want to embrace the traditional China's examination-focussed education approach at the same time rigidity is being questioned in China? Vanessa L. Fong is associate professor in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Philip G. Altbach is Monan professor of higher education and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

IAP News_December23_2010  
IAP News_December23_2010  

Others might argue that economic competitiveness is the real issue here, considering that assessments of American 15­year­olds' capabilities...