News from EdNavigator | December 2016
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A New Year's Resolution:
Don't Talk to Parents about International Tests

The end of the year has us reflecting on what we’ve learned while helping families navigate schools in New Orleans. One the biggest lessons is also one of the simplest: Parents generally don’t care about things that aren’t immediately relevant to their child or their school.
The latest round of PISA test results offer a perfect example. PISA is the international test given every three years to students across the world.  The 2015 results show once again that American students lag far behind their peers in leading nations.
It has become a familiar drumbeat. American students have never done particularly well on international tests.  It always draws front page news coverage.  Experts are quoted saying this should be a wake up-call.  They usually point to a couple of countries that performed better and say we should adopt their policies to get their results.
Yet American families never seem to care. Why? Don’t we love to win?  Didn’t we land men on the moon because the Russians launched Sputnik?
Parents don’t think that way. If you want to get their attention, tell them other schools in their own area are doing better than the one their children attend. They can’t send their kids to school in Finland or Singapore.  Who cares how good those schools are?  It’s like their own school is the Earth, other nearby schools are the moon, and other countries’ schools are Pluto – so distant and tiny, it’s unclear whether they even qualify as planets.
Here’s a secret that Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World, has pointed out in her reporting: When parents read to their young children and talk to them frequently about books, music, movies, and news as they get older, these habits lead to greater learning—no matter where they live.
Now that is something that resonates for families.  It’s something they can do.  They don’t need to move to Hong Kong.  They don’t need to become education policy junkies.   They just need to practice the sorts of thinking habits they want their children to display. 
Yes, the economy is increasingly global.  Yes, we need to build an educated, competitive workforce.  But let’s make the case in terms that parents can understand and act upon.  Otherwise, we might as well start the countdown until the next depressing round of international assessment news splashes across the front page, announcing more of the same.
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Happy holidays from all of us at EdNavigator!

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