How Obama Can Spark An Education Revolution

Reports yesterday here and here on the latest TIMSS results (that's for Trends In International Mathematics and Science Study), one of the gold standard reports that show how we stack up against the world on student achievement. Bottom line: we've made a little progress, but still trail many other nations we generally think we're smarter than (full report here). Depressing but accurate quote from savvy Mike Cohen, who runs Achieve: "If we put our mind to it and aim high, we can get our performance up to the level of top Asian countries."

So much for another American century.

But there's one fascinating bright spot, which Barack Obama can use to spark a low-cost revolution. Massachusetts and Minnesota, who've led the way in adopting rigorous standards, arranged to get themselves measured independently from the U.S., and these two states performed on a par with the best in the world. They're the only states with the guts to have had their schools broken out separately. You see where I'm heading. As a condition of receiving their federal funding, Obama should require all states to agree to have their results broken out in TIMMS (and also to participate in another respected international comparative study known as PISA). The feds can pony up the modest costs associated with this. It's a perfect fit with Obama's money-for-reform theme. "If we're going to invest more in education," he can say, "we need to know how we're doing. That's just common sense."

Why do this? The idea would be to assure periodic but regular headlines across the country like, "Alabama Schools Rated Worse Than Uganda's," or "California Trails Uzbekhistan Again In Math And Science." Polls show today that most people think the education system is a mess, but that their own schools are fine. They're wrong to be complacent, and with this little step Obama could go a long way to provoke the reality-based uproar we need. I'm hoping my favorite Eduwonk, Andy Rotherham, who has the ear of the transition team (and who would make a great senior DOE appointment), gets this into the mix asap.


Blogger chris667 said...

It sounds as though you think you can shame schools into performing better. Every first rate organization in this country is made up of first rate people. As long as teachers pay is not enough to allow them to put their own kids through college we will never attract the "Best" to the profession. It will continue to be the province of those who happen to be married to someone making a living wage. Until the country is willing to face this and pay for the people they need there is no hope of shaming them into performing better. By the way one of the reasons the Ma. scored so well may that per capita they probably pay more for outside tutors to compensate for what the public schools don't provide than any other state. Double teacher pay and within 10 years the system will have righted itself.

December 28, 2008 at 12:07 PM  

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