Want Better Schools? Follow the PISA Brick Road!

Education policy-makers at the state and local levels in Maine would do well to use the results of last year’s PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests – released December 3 – as a roadmap for decision-making.

Mr. Schleicher, the head of education at the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), says that the nations that far outperform us “…pay teachers more. They are also systems with a commitment to universal achievement.”

The PISA tests are sponsored by OECD and are administered to fifteen year-olds in membership countries around the world. The emphasis is on a deep understanding of subject areas and on the ability to problem solve and apply critical thinking skills. According to the results of this test, students in the United States perform at an average level in relation to their peers around the world. Further, our scores have remained stagnant while those of some other countries have risen substantially during the past three years.

Maine is a small state that is relatively easy to manage.  The results of the PISA test make clear the roadmap we should follow for improving education in our state: pay teachers better; emphasize universal achievement.

Paying teachers better would help ensure that those who train future generations of students come from the upper tier of college graduates – the same students who might also consider the law, medicine, engineering, university teaching, and other professions. Maine should try to attract top-of-the-line students to become teachers in the state. We can do this by offering incentives to work in Maine as a teacher.

The second path on our roadmap is the one that ensures we treat all students equitably. This means that students in all districts should have equal resources – the same material supplies as well as the same level of human resources. Salaries of teachers, for instance, should be equal throughout the state so that talented teachers do not choose jobs in only the wealthiest areas, compromising universal achievement.

At the moment teacher salaries vary widely throughout the state. A teacher with a Master’s degree and nineteen years of experience earns $63,985 in Cape Elizabeth, for instance, while a teacher with the same degree and years of experience earns $46,174 in Somerville.  This variation is unacceptably wide. One could perhaps argue that the standard of living is higher in Cape Elizabeth than Somerville – but not by nearly $20,000 per year!

According to the PISA test results, students from countries that believe all students should be given an equal chance at a quality education do better than our students. The United States, self-avowed beacon of ‘justice for all’ needs to follow the PISA roadmap. And if the United States as a whole will not do that – how about our precious state of Maine?







Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.