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Diane Ravitch Is Well Respected. And Wrong.

In this blog, I focus on the educators and programs that are doing excellent work. I want to give voice to them so that more students might take part.

When I read Diane Ravitch's blog PISA Day: Don't Believe Arne Duncan's Orchestrated Hype and Spin, that called Asia Society and our partners in PISA Day conspiracists, I intended to have the work, and the data, speak for itself. But Ravitch is a star educator and has led many of the reforms that shaped our education system. She understandably has many followers. And it's not just Ravitch. It's Loveless. It's Strauss. It's really for this reason that I'm speaking up: Diane Ravitch is wrong. There is no conspiracy.

What they all have wrong is the big story coming out of the PISA isn't the rankings—or the supposed faultiness of the rankings.

The big story is about school systems that have overcome the inequity problems that plague American schools on whole.

If we take the top 10 percent of the most privileged students in the United States, their mean score would be near the top of the international rankings. As we go down the socioeconomic ladder, skills drop. This means that American students do not have equal access to a good education. The United States has the highest poverty rate among children compared to most developed European nations. The national poverty average sits at 23%, but in some states, that number is closer to 50%.

Shanghai, although not a nation, is a massive city with over 23 million residents, many of whom are migrant laborers with little education. And yet, children from these families perform, on average, at a high level. Shanghai, and other high-performing systems, have cracked the code for providing all students equal access to a good education. That should be of significant interest to everyone involved in American education.

Some writers suggest that we can go on depending on the few innovators to carry the country. The Nation at Risk predictions did not come true, they claim. Meanwhile, the United States is still recovering from the worst recession in a century. Income has not grown in 15 years. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high at 16.2%—double the rate for people of all ages. Some will say we are in crisis.

More so, the economy itself is shifting. Ninety-five percent of consumers and three-quarters of the world's purchasing power lies outside our borders. One out of five U.S. jobs is tied to trade. There is huge opportunity for growth for businesses of all sizes - if they have the workers with the right skills. PISA measures the critical thinking and problem-solving skills the global age demands.  

I challenge Ravitch, Strauss, and readers to look deeper into PISA. The data supports the same ideas that they espouse, such as not placing primary emphasis on student test scores on high-stakes exams to evaluate teacher quality; or to give teachers better support; or to fund equity; or to expect excellence from all.

Governor Bob Wise made an apt analogy during PISA Day. In baseball, rankings and data do matter—but what matters more is understanding the strategies behind the numbers that lead to improvement. Let's get with the game. Stop worrying or contesting rankings and focus on the practices that will deliver an excellent education to all.

Follow Asia Society PGL and Tony Jackson on Twitter. 

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