Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Facts and International Tests

21st Century Skills, as promoted, are not effective without a command of some basic factual information. If you don't know any factual material, a few minutes on Google may or may not get you relevant facts. Then, of course, the student who has no knowledge cannot evaluate what facts are found, cannot compare the new knowledge to the old, cannot "stand on the shoulders of giants". An hour's worth of Powerpoint and some multimedia cribbed from Google images won't hide that lack, which is why I refer to it as Glitzenbullshit.

One commenter replied to an earlier post that
"There is a reason why the U.S. scores 35th in the world in math. It is because the rest of the world is embracing inquiry and prioritizing 'flexible' thinking...while we are still preparing to compete in the industrial age."

I'd really like to know how he arrived at this cause-effect relationship.

The US averages must naturally include many schools that have made these changes to a 21st Century Focus -- I would maintain that it is precisely because so many of our schools have changed to 21stCS that our averages have declined on tests like PISA and TIMSS. These tests don't measure 21stCS sets; they measure factual information and basic skills.

It is not, perhaps, indicative of a 'good education', but until you define THAT and determine what such should entail, you cannot use a fact-based international test to determine superiority or otherwise.

I would also point out that the whole concept of comparison conveniently ignores the fact (there's that dirty word again) that many nations to which we compare ourselves have much more homogenous culture and demographics, and most have a national curriculum and province-wide, if not national, control over schools. Almost all of the "great" successes have nationwide testing programs to finish off school. The final product is much more amenable to testing like PISA.

When I compare students and programs, talk with ex-students, visit colleges and speak with professors and admissions, converse with tradesmen and businessmen, I find one thing across the board. Success in college, life and careers is correlated more closely with schools that stressed facts and knowledge first and then blended in communication, information, literacy and critical thinking skills. Any school that tried to do it the other way invariably and ultimately did a disservice to its students.

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