Speed Reads

The education situation

Here's how to make the U.S. smarter

American teenagers performed below average for the developed world in the results of the latest PISA education test, released Tuesday morning, with nearly three dozen countries outperforming the U.S. But the kind of education reform promised by President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, could make things even worse, The New York Times reports.

The PISA test is given every three years to half a million 15-year-olds from 69 countries around the world to gauge their ability to make strong written arguments and solve problems they haven't seen before — the aim being to test what conditions make teenagers "smart." Money spent per student isn't a firm indicator of a country's success on the test, nor are low child poverty levels or fewer immigrants. Instead, here's what the findings showed:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

Of all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so [analyst Andreas] Schleicher did not expect them to boost America's PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America's PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.) [The New York Times]

Trump and DeVos want to repeal Common Core, although their ability to do so is a little unclear since the federal government did not create or implement the program. Common Core-like standards are also seen across every high-ranking nation in the PISA test, including Poland and South Korea, the Times points out.

But what about America's middling scores on the PISA? There is a silver lining, The New York Times reports — read a further breakdown of the findings here.