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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

PISA results and motivation

A confluence occurred:

A) NBC News ran a story about the PISA results on December 3rd, in which a Chinese student (who appears to be high school-aged but wasn't identified as such), when asked, "Why do you want to study so much?" responded, "Because I want to have a better future."

B) A colleague was telling me that very few of her students even knew about the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which offers free in-state college tuition to students who score highly on all aspects of the MCAS exam.  Many students appeared to be downright shocked to know that this was even available, and several commented that they would have tried harder had they known about this their sophomore years.

C) While researching information for my Modern America class, I saw that, according to an article in EdWeek citing stats from the US Department of Education, in 1969, 77% of the population of the US had a high school diploma.  More recently, this number has settled to just under 70%. That's a lot of high school diplomas...

These three things converged in my head to cause me to think that part of why the US is being "passed" by other countries on measurements of assessment like PISA, is not only because we are teaching outmoded content in outmoded ways, but is also because our students are hell and gone from the attitude displayed by the student in China.  There is little to no connection in the minds of our students that a high school education is the door to a better future. High school is what they do because they have to. They are required to be there, but they don't see how their learning could lead to a better job, a higher wage, and thus greater economic security. Where that got lost, I don't know, but it got lost. "I have to be here," is what many of my students say when I ask why they come to school.

I think that if more American students saw both an intrinsic and extrinsic value to what they did in high school, they would be more invested at performing at a high level, and thus would apply themselves more--they would "try harder" to get that scholarship.  I'm left wondering who and when and where and how can we as a society can communicate this value to our teenagers. "So you can go to college," is lovely, but if more, future school is the reward for school, the value and motivation wanes for focusing on what is immediately in front of the person. Especially when the person is 15. And especially when the person is being presented with irrelevant material...

Oh, and apparently 6100 15 year old US students took the PISA. According to the US Department of Education, that's out of a total high school age population of about 20 million (public and private) students aged 14-18. You can decide if that is or is not a representative sample of students, and thus whether or not we should be gnashing our teeth about being surpassed by Vietnam...

And if you like, the PISA results are tabulated here. Makes for some interesting reading...