The Biden administration’s unseriousness on PISA

The Biden administration’s unseriousness on PISA

By Dale Chu

The latest PISA results dropped earlier today and, perhaps to no one’s surprise, they weren’t good. U.S. students saw a 13-point drop in math, which was “among the lowest ever measured by PISA in mathematics” for the U.S., according to the OECD.

This morning’s headlines summarize the bad news:

“U.S. students’ math scores plunge in global education assessment” (Axios)

“Math scores dropped globally, but the U.S. still trails other countries” (New York Times)

“Learning loss hits the U.S. hard. It’s as bad or worse across the world.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Math scores for U.S. students hit all-time low on international exam” (Washington Post)

But one place you won’t hear any sobriety is 400 Maryland Avenue, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Education. Earlier today, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona issued a statement that “cautiously celebrated” the outcome:

Here’s the bottom line: At an extremely tough time in education, the United States moved up in the world rankings in reading, math, and science – all three categories PISA measures – while, unfortunately, many other countries saw declines.”

While it’s true that our relative ranking improved, it’s only because other countries that have typically outperformed us posted scores that were even worse. This is hardly cause for celebration.

Regardless, the Biden administration seems intent on burying their heads in the sand on the real challenges involved in getting our kids back on track. The President himself has been largely AWOL on academic learning loss. For his part, Cardona is joining the Vice President later today to talk about contraception access in colleges. The first tweet/X from the U.S. Department of Education’s official feed since the release of the PISA results asks whether unicorns can help students learn. Untethered to reality, promoting an imaginary animal following the stark news about America’s lackluster performance on PISA is consistent with Cardona’s rose-colored glasses outlook—and this administration’s eagerness to turn the page. But it reflects, at best, a deeply unserious attitude about the moment.

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