America in black and white
Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post delves into murky territory this week, writing about the recent “Sputnik moment” occasioned by the release of the 2009 PISA results. To demonstrate that America’s schools are performing better than commonly believed, he digs into the Department of Education’s “Highlights from PISA 2009” report, which presents scores disaggregated by race. Lo and behold, white Americans, with an average score of 525, are on par with homogeneously white countries, like Canada (524), New Zealand (521), and Australia (515). The story is the same for Asian Americans (clocking in with an average 541), who scored about even with South Korea, and ahead of Hong Kong (533) and Japan. (Yes, Shanghai still blows them out of the water.) It’s a crude approach, admits Samuelson, “but it suggests that U.S. schools do about as well as the best systems elsewhere in educating similar students.” Our real challenge, argues the economist, is our social system, which allows for vast inequalities which explain the terrible performance of our poor, black, and Hispanic students. Of course he’s right—to a point. There’s no doubt that test scores correlate with socio-economic status and race, but schools are hardly impotent in changing that equation. As Kevin Huffman writes, “within this country, entire districts and states are dramatically outperforming their counterparts in educating similar children” (think Texas compared to California). Yes, Mr. Samuelson, we need to work toward a more just society—and better schools are the best hope we’ve got for doing exactly that.
“To Foster High-Achievers, Think Beyond the Classroom,” by Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, January 10, 2011.
“Reconciliation in the School-Reform War,” by Kevin Huffman, Washington Post, January 10, 2011.
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