I just re-read this excerpt from the OECD’s report on Lessons from PISA for the United States. As I try to understand why kids seem to care more about school in other countries, I keep coming back to this. We do an insane amount of testing in the U.S., but none of it matters much for the lives and futures of individual students…. We do very little to help kids connect the dots between what they are learning in school and what kind of car, job and life they will have as adults. They find out eventually, but way too late:
In the United States, high school students may be led to believe that the outcome is the same whether they take easy courses and get Ds in them or take tough courses and get As. Either way, they might think, they can get into the local community college and get on with their lives. Contrast this with a student of the same age in Toyota City, Japan, who wants to work on the line at a Toyota plant. That student knows that she must get good grades in tough subjects and earn the recommendation of her principal, so she takes those tough courses and works hard in school. The same is true of the student in Germany who wants to work for Daimler Benz in their machine shop or the student in Singapore who wants to go to work in the factory automation shop a few blocks from his home. The reason examination systems matter is that they provide strong incentives for students to take tough courses and study hard. One of the most striking features of the American education system, in contrast with the education systems of the most successful countries, is its failure to provide strong incentives to the average student to work hard in school. If the reader does not, for whatever reason, like the idea of examination systems, then the lesson learned here should be that some other means, no less effective, should be found to motivate students to work as hard in school as students in other countries do.