Every three years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds across the world. PISA assesses the students’ ability to analyze, reason, and apply their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar settings in order to meet real-life challenges.

The results of the latest test, conducted in 2009, were released last week. Findings indicate that in a comparison of 34 of the OECD countries, the United States ranked fourteenth in reading, seventeenth in science and twenty-fifty in math. This is not what I found shocking.

What I found shocking was that United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was quoted as saying about the results, “This is an absolute wake-up call for America. The results are extraordinarily challenging to us, and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.”

Duncan calls this a wake-up call? Is he kidding? Where has he been? Is his alarm clock defective?

I read a follow-up report to the results about education in Singapore, one of the top-performing countries. Sinapore ranked fifth in reading, second in math and fourth in science. Let’s compare:

Singapore: Their curriculum is “well-developed with rigorous standards aligned to instruction and assessment.”

Many districts in the U.S. including districts in the Rio Grande Valley: Teachers continuing to be required to give students grades they didn’t earn, teachers being required to re-test high school students despite the fact that we are also being told we must follow College Readiness Standards (Can you say mixed message?), middle school and high school students who cannot spell the days of the week or write in a complete sentence and who do not know the difference between a noun and a verb. We’ve all heard the joke about Americans — “Their academics are a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Should I go on?

Singapore: “High-quality principals and teachers, as well as strong leaders with bold long-term vision.”

Many districts in the U.S. including districts in the Rio Grande Valley: Have you seen the ads? Get your supervision certificates in five weeks, and you, too, can become an administrator. There are certainly good administrators, but we need to take a serious look at the vision, the ability to get those under them to follow that vision, and the academic strength of administrators who are supposed to be their campus’ instructional leader.

Singapore is known for the high quality of their teachers. We must get teachers who are not teaching out of the classroom. Our students deserve to be learning every day.

I have some questions of my own to pose to Sec. Duncan:

1. Why are administrators and teachers today expected to go to the homes of students who are habitually absent? When did getting a child TO school become the job of the school district? Where is the accountability of parents when it comes to this? When you were growing up, wasn’t that your parents’ responsibility, and by the time you got to high school, yours? I wonder if administrators and teachers in Singapore are held responsible for this or if it is “Only in America”?

2. During the spring semester of 2009, a university professor from China was in a class I was taking at UTPA. We asked him one day how different education in China is from education in the U.S. He said the thing that shocked him the most when he arrived for his exchange experience was the way students in America talk while the teacher is talking. He said in China this is considered extremely disrespectful. I couldn’t help but wonder what teachers in China would think about students cursing in front of and to them, students texting during class, and students making out in the hallways of the school. Discipline is a critical part of a strong academic environment, but America doesn’t seem to mind these things.

3. Finally, does Singapore have a one-track-you’re-all-going-to-college-whether-you-want-to-or-not mentality or do students have to earn their place on the college track and otherwise go through a career track that will allow them to graduate from high school with a marketable skill?

I plan to research the top-performing OECD schools to find the answers myself. I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, wake up, Mr. Duncan.

NOTE: To learn more about PISA, visit http://www.pisa.oecd.org/document/4/0,3343,en_32252351_32236225_39758660_1_1_1_1,00.html

Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. Visit her web site at www.chrisardis.com for education news and to read articles by McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez, Shelley Bryant, Edna Posada, Dr. Ben Aguilar and Lorena Castillo.