Opting Out, TIMSS Style

We need to better prepare our students to compete on the world economy.  Such is the driving mantra behind current pushes to improve our high schools and strengthen the links between secondary and postsecondary education.  Our students need the skills to succeed, they need the math, science, and problem-solving skills to hold their own against other students around the world.  They need the skills to gain good jobs in the United States.  And they need strong math and science skills to ensure such jobs remain here in the United States.  Math and science skills are necessary to keeping our economy strong and our future generations employed.  All strong rhetoric, all believed by Main Street USA, and all pretty damned true.

That’s why Eduflack was a little disappointed to read a piece by Sarah D. Sparks in Education Daily a little more than a week ago, which reported that the United States will not participate in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, for physics and calculus.

Eduflack waited to comment on this development to see how those who truly understand the policy implications reacted.  And the response was as surprising as the announcement — deafening silence.

Why is the U.S. Department opting out of TIMSS?  Two simple reasons.  The first is cost.  The second is lack of students.  What is the United States lacking?  Apparently, we don’t have a few million dollars to conduct the study and we don’t have the 16,000 students needed to comprise an effective sample size.

Yes, such reasoning seems quite questionable, particularly with everything we know about NCLB funding, the demand for greater assessments, and the rapid increase in science and math instruction thanks to programs like STEM, early colleges, and similar high school reforms.

At a time when the international team is looking to go head-to-head with the United States, we choose to sit on the bench.  At a time when we tell our kids that they need to gain math and science skills to succeed in both college and career, we send then to the showers before they even have a chance to pitch the first inning.  And at a time when we should be doing all we can to post impressive stats and demonstrate we are the world leaders, instead we choose to hide behind the stats on the back of our bubblegum cards, those numbers that defined us in years past.

But what, exactly, does this announcement say about us?  Instead of dwelling on what we cannot do or where we see the failings, Eduflack offers up some talking points for Secretary Spellings on this important topic.

* Ensuring that our high school students are truly prepared to compete in the global economy must become a fiscal priority for us.  We are, rightfully so, pouring billions and billions into elementary- and middle-school improvements and testing (including TIMSS for fourth and eighth graders), but the current federal commitment to high schools is but a fraction.  We need to educate and train our students, particularly those in high school, in math and science, and we need to effectively assess those skills.
* We need to applaud those school districts that are taking the responsibility to prepare all students for the future.  Early colleges and dual-enrollment offerings.  AP and IB programs.  STEM education.  All of these are important steps our schools, districts, and states are taking to ready our kids for the challenges and opportunities of the future.
* The United States stands as the true home for innovation.  And we’re willing to make the investment to keep it that way.  Our future is too important not to equip our students with the math, science, and problem-solving skills needed to achieve, both in school and in life.

Yes, TIMSS is merely one measure of our effectiveness.  It is a tool, like other assessments, to ensure we are on the right track.  And it is one of the few we have to effectively measure our abilities versus our trading partners and our economic competitors around the globe.  Not participating in the study reads like we are worried about our ability to compete and our ability to excel.  If we aren’t ready for the big leagues, then we need to get back into training and prepare ourselves for true competition.  You can’t win the big game of life if you’re unwilling to step onto the field. 


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