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Monday, 7th February 2011

The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education

The 2010 Brown Center Report on American Education

Source:  Brookings Institution

This edition of the Brown Center Report marks the tenth issue of the series and the final issue of Volume II. The publication began in 2000 with Bill Clinton in the White House and the Bush-Gore presidential campaign building toward its dramatic conclusion. That first report was organized in a three-part structure that all subsequent Brown Center Reports followed. Part I presents the latest results from state, national, or international assessments and alerts readers to important trends in the data. Part II explores an education issue in depth, sometimes by investigating different sources of empirical evidence than previous research, sometimes by posing a conventional question in an unconventional way. Part III analyzes a current or impending question regarding education policy. In all three sections, the studies strive to ask clear questions, gather the best available evidence, and present findings in a nonpartisan, jargon-free manner.

Part I of this year’s Brown Center Report focuses on international assessments. The latest data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released in December 2010. The performance of the United States was mediocre, and although notching gains in all three subjects, the country scored near the international average in reading literacy and scientific literacy and below average in mathematical literacy. The term “literacy” is a signal that PISA covers different content than most achievement tests, and, indeed, assesses different skills than are emphasized in the school curriculum. As the 2006 PISA Framework states, the knowledge and skills tested on PISA “are defined not primarily in terms of a common denominator of national school curricula but in terms of what skills are deemed to be essential for future life.”

Two myths of international assessments are debunked—the first, that the United States once led the world on international tests of achievement. It never has. The second myth is that Finland leads the world in education, with China and India coming on fast. Finland has a superb school system, but, significantly, it scores at the very top only on PISA, not on other international assessments. Finland also has a national curriculum more in sync with a “literacy” thrust, making PISA a friendly judge in comparing Finnish students with students from other countries. And what about India and China? Neither country has ever participated in an international assessment. How they would fare is unknown.

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