This will be my last newsletter of
the year.  Thank you for making it
a success!

Bulletin Board

  • The Cartel, an award-winning
    documentary about corruption in public education, will be screened in at the
    Galaxy Theater (770 Cary Towne Blvd) in Cary, North Carolina, at 7:30 pm on
    Monday December 27, 2010.  The
    event is a collaboration between Bowdon Media and the North Carolina Alliance
    for Public Charter Schools.  Sponsors have made the one-night-only event
    free to all who RSVP (http://thecartelmovie.eventbrite.com/)
    in advance.  The Cartel’s Director
    Bob Bowdon and NC Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Eddie Goodall
    will both appear after the scr
    eening to answer questions and hold an education
    reform town hall meeting.
  • Calling
    all school board members!  On
    January 14, 2011, the Civitas Institute and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County
    Schools will be sponsoring a half-day seminar on state and local education
    budgets.  Content is designed to enhance an understanding of the
    budget process and help members develop strategies to minimize the impacts of
    expected budget reductions on the classroom.  Speakers include John Dornan, former President of Public
    School Forum, Inc.; Kerry Crutchfield, former chief finance officer of the
    Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Dr. Terry Stoops, Director of
    Education Studies with the John Locke Foundation.  The seminar is
    scheduled fro
    m 10 am to 2 pm at the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Education
    Building (4801 Bethania Station Road, Winston-Salem, NC).  Cost of the
    event is $30.00 and includes lunch. After January 7, the cost is $40.00.  Register online at: http://nccivitas.org/events/.  For additional information call Bob at:
    919-834-2099.  School board members
    who attend can count four hours toward professional training requirements.
  • The E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders continues
    to accept applications for the 2010-2011 class.  Applicants must be between the ages of 25 and 40, reside in
    North Carolina, and commit to a yearlong program of activities designed to
    examine, develop, and enhance their leadership skills.  There is no cost to individuals
    accepted into the program.  For
    additional information, please visit the E.A. Morris website at http://www.eamorrisfellows.org/.
  • The North Carolina History Project would like educators and
    homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school
    courses in North Carolina history. Please provide links to NC History Project encyclopedia articles and
    other primary and secondary source material, if possible.  Go to http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/edu_corner/
    for further information.
  • Become a member of JLF’s Freedom Clubs!  We have seven regional clubs covering
    every part of North Carolina, so there is one near you and your like-minded
    conservative friends.  For more
    information, visit https://www.johnlocke.org/support/.


three years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
conducts reading, math, and science tests under the Program for International
Student Assessment (PISA).  Fifteen-year-old
students from over sixty nations participated
in the 2009 PISA testing. 

results were similar to previous testing cycles.  Students from the United States met the international
average scores on reading and science assessments.  They scored lower than the international average on the math
assessment.  The usual suspects
occupied the top spots – South Korea, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, and
Canada.  Non-OECD countries like
Singapore and China easily outscored everyone.  The U.S. hung with economic powerhouses like Hungary,
Poland, and Iceland in the middle of the pack.

Most commentators and politicians responded in one of
four ways.  They 1) lamented the
performance of U.S. students on the PISA test; 2) complained about test
questions, methodology, or other aspects of the tests; 3) discounted testing as
an indicator of mastery and critical thinking; or 4) ignored the results.  Those who identified limitations in the
development, administration, data collection, and interpretation of the tests
probably overstate their case. There is simply no evidence that PISA officials are perpetuating a
fraudulent testing program.  Yet,
there is something to be said for those who pointed out that tests supply a
limited amount of information about knowledge and ability.  Even when one adds contextual factors,
however, the results are still discouraging.

And then there is Fawn Johnson of the National
.  She has no problem with
mediocrity.  Shortly after the
release of the test scores, Johnson wrote,

The OECD results are in, and teenagers in the United
States are (drum roll, please) absolutely average.

Survey results released last week from
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for
International Student Assessment, or PISA, found that 15-year-old students in
the U.S. rank 14th in reading and 17th in science compared to other OECD
countries. They fall far behind in math, where they rank 25th…

…At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, what’s so awful about being
average?  In every graduating
class, there can be only one valedictorian.

In response to her comments, Checker Finn, president of
Thomas B. Fordham Institute, took Ms. Johnson to task.  He wrote,

Yikes. Why shouldn’t National
settle for being average, too,
maybe like
People, Road
& Track
, or Teen Star
? Why shouldn’t American athletes
settle for the middle of the pack in the summer and winter Olympics? Who really
cares about gold medals? Oscars?  Nobel Prizes?  Three Michelin stars?
you want us seriously to ponder the possibility that average is fine for the
United States when it comes to education?

I would add that average is unacceptable for a nation that
spends more on elementary and secondary education than any other nation, with
the exception of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

State results are not available because the PISA
researchers draw samples from entire nations.  We cannot use North Carolina’s state test results to compare
our students with their counterparts in South Carolina, let alone South
Korea.  (This is ironic for a state
that endeavors
to cultivate a globally competitive public school system.)  Techniques like statistical linking,
though imperfect, may allow us to estimate how North Carolina and other states
would perform on an international assessment like PISA.  Last year, researchers from the American Institutes of Research standardized
federal National
Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) scores and compared them to
another international test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science
Study (TIMSS).  The good news was
that North Carolina scored slightly higher than the
international average in reading and math.  The bad news was that
the highest achieving states
within the United States are still significantly below the highest achieving

It is gut-check time for members of the NC General
Assembly.  As U.S. Secretary of
Education Arne Duncan pointed
, states can improve educational productivity if they are "smart,
innovative, and courageous in rethinking the status quo."  Perhaps even the NC State Board of
Education will spend some time talking about the PISA results and smart,
innovative, and courageous reforms that upend the status quo…unless they don’t
have a problem with average.

Facts and Stats

Percentage of 16 year olds enrolled in secondary
education, by country (2006)

103% — Belgium

102% — Greece*

100% — Czech Republic

99% — Sweden

98% — Japan

98% — Netherlands

97% — Poland

97% — Slovenia

96% — Finland

96% — France

96% — Germany

96% — Hungary

96% — Estonia

95% — Ireland

95% — Slovak

94% — Australia

94% — Iceland

94% — Korea,
Republic of

94% — Norway

94% — Chile

94% — Israel

93% — Austria

93% — Spain

93% — United

91% — Denmark

91% — Switzerland

89% — Italy

87% — New

86% — United

86% — Brazil

84% — Luxembourg

81% — Portugal

74% –Russian

57% — Turkey

54% — Mexico

Source: Snyder, T.D., and Dillow, S.A. (2010). Digest
of Education Statistics 2009
(NCES 2010-013).
National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S.
Department of Education. Washington, DC, p. 586. 

*Note: Differences in reference dates between enrollment
and population data can result in enrollment rates that exceed 100 percent.


I would like to invite all readers
to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes,
concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina.  I will publish selected submissions in
future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].

Education Acronym of the

IAP – International
Activities Program
, National Center for Education Statistics

Quote of the Week

"With the
exception of some improvement in science from 2006 to 2009, U.S. performance on
the PISA has been largely stagnant. The U.S. is not among the top performing OECD nations in any subject
tested by PISA–though U.S. students express more self-confidence in their
academic skills than students in virtually all OECD nations.  This stunning finding may be explained
because students here are being commended for work that would not be acceptable
in high-performing education systems.

hard truth is that other high-performing nations have passed us by during the
last two decades."

— U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Remarks
at OECD’s Release of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)
2009 Results
, December 7, 2010.