The world is a noisy place. But it's not the noise from cars, trains, airplanes, construction sites, buses, cellphones, air horns, or traffic that concerns me the most.
No, the noise that concerns me the most is the noise from critics of public education.
The latest noise comes from those who suggest that we are failures!
The latest PISA results - the international test of 15 year-olds - confirms that we are failures.
It says so here - US teens lag behind - and here - American schools: Expensive, unequal, bad at math - and here - PISA tests results are sobering.
Yet, this morning in Novi Middle School I sat with students who students who were talking about math in ways that I never talked about math. Mrs. Grant's 8th grade Algebra I students seemed to understand more about the topic of solving equations and inequalities than I did. Mrs. Brown students were discussing exponential functions. And Mrs. Deroo's students were explaining and exploring graphs.
These were 14 year-old students who sooner than they realize will be compared to other students from around the world. How will they stack up?
If I listen to the noise I might begin to believe that they will not stack up well.
But my job is not to listen to the noise. My job is to focus on the students who actually sit in the seats in the classrooms in my district. When I focus on the students in my district I understand that my responsibility is to prepare them to be successful.
That means I must have a school system that will provide them with academic skills. They need to learn. Content is important.
But I also must help them develop tenacity, grit, and determination. I must have a system that helps them learn to be empathetic, learning to listen to and care for others. I must encourage the development of creativity and problem solving.
Does the PISA, the TIMMS, or any international assessment test for those skills?
The "noise" focuses on the relative performance of our students when compared to students from around the world on a narrow bandwidth of skills. The "noise" does not trumpet the limitations of its assessment. International assessments have been around for a long time and their track record of identifying who is better than students in the US in the long run is not stellar. The countries with the highest test scores in the 1960's, for example, had the lowest scores on national success decades later. I don't hear much noise about that.
So what does this all mean?
It means that I need to focus on the students in my schools not the noise.