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Academic Conversation Cast of Characters Neal Conan host of Talk of the Nation radio show (NPR programming) Howard

) Howard L. Fleischman project officer from the PISA 2009 study Vance H. Fried policy analyst from the Cato Institute Andrew Howard Nichols representative from the Pell Institute Mike Ross OECD representative Andreas Schleicher featured author in Middle School Journal Zach Butler college freshman

Talk Show The host sits in his comfortable office chair, takes a sip of water, and loosens up as he prepares to resume the show after a quick commercial break. Each of his guests have taken a seat around a semicircular table and been given microphones. All are prepared to share their knowledge and experiences with regard to the American educational system. The last ad has finished and Talk of the Nation is ready to commence. NEAL: (clears throat) For all of those tuning in this afternoon, welcome back. Im here with six guests and the concentration for todays discussion is education. But more specificallywhat all of these findings and opinions mean for the United States and its competition with other nations in education as this world becomes increasingly globalized. Alright folks I shall introduce each guest one at a time and once all have given some brief statements, we can then begin to have a debate. My first guest is Howard Fleischman, a project officer of the 2009 PISA study. Howard, what exactly is the PISA study? HOWARD: (adjusts collar and places hands on the table in an interlaced fashion) Hey Neal, thanks for having me. The PISA study, the Program for International Student Assessment, is basically an international observation of how well 15-year-olds from around the world do in math, science, and reading relative to one another. This whole operation is spearheaded by the OECD of which the guest to the left of me (motions to Mike, a guest to be introduced later) is a part of. Ill get into the specific numbers later, but what we found was that in reading, American students are performing at an average level, in mathematics, American students are performing at a below-average level, and in science, American students are performing at an average level. So, in other words, there is room for improvement in each area, but we need to work on mathematics. NEAL: (scratches chin in a contemplative manner) Interesting, very interesting. Lets move onto my second guest, Vance Fried. Vance is a policy analyst with the libertarian think-tank, the Cato Institute and he specializes with the intersection of government and education. First, welcome to the show and second, provide our listeners with some of your thoughts on government and education.

VANCE: (leans back in his chair to get more comfortable and then moves his left hand in a circular fashion as he talks) Glad to be here, Neal. Big fan of the show. What I and the Cato Institute are interested in is how the government plays a role in the quality of our youths education. In my latest publishing, analysis No. 678, I explain how the government makes the process for applying and paying for college difficult. NEAL: (reflects for a moment) Ah, a very divisive issue politics is. Im sure some of our listeners are curious now if they werent before. Anyways, my third guest is Andrew Nichols who joi ns us from the Pell Institute. I have here a copy of the Institutes latest piece. What can you tell me about it? ANDREW: (picks up his stack of notes, straightens them, puts them back on table ) Always a pleasure, Neal. To truly understand the piece, you need to understand the Institutes interest. The Pell Institute is focused on the amount of opportunity in education. With that being said, this latest article explores the nations degree-attainment goals for the future. Essentially, the governments goal is to have 60% of the nation holding degrees by 2020. Its going to be a challenge. From there, we perform comparisons to other countries and identify some solutions to help us reach that goal. I mean this is simply a valence issue, Neal. NEAL: (takes a sip of water and repositions in his seat) Good stuff, Andrew. Guest #4 is Mr. Mike Ross of the OECD. Mr. Ross, what do you have to contribute to this discourse? MIKE: (becomes alert) A fair amount, Id say. Oh! And thanks for having me on. To begin, I work for the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a multifaceted group with 34 member countries. I believe Howard mentioned it earlier. The mission is selfevident. My specialty lies within the educational sphere. In the publication Education Indicators in Focus, I hone in on the social inequality in education. In many countries, no education means no future. Its unfortunate because it means you can be born into a world that gives you little chance to succeed. This is a travesty and the OECD is intent on stopping income disparity, the very menace that identifies social inequality. We also take a look at what education could mean if it had more equity. NEAL: (points to Andreas, the next guest) My penultimate colleague is Andreas Schleicher, a published author in the Middle School Journal. Andreas, what do you have to say about all of this? ANDREAS: (staring intently at Neal) Hi. As far as education goes, my piece covers the international aspect and not just one subject area. I detail how America has lost its competitive advantage and what other countries are doing to maintain a high level of performance in the classroom. NEAL: (scratches chest) Alright, it seems we have a scholarly panel, but my last guest is a college freshman by the name of Zach Butler. Hey Zach, what can you do to enhance the talk? ZACH: (unfolds arms after sitting quietly for several minutes) Hey, thanks for having me on. And all I can really give you is perspective. Having recently left the public school system and entered a university, I think I can give you a fresh set of eyes on the matter. NEAL: And now we have to go to a quick commercial break. We will be right back after these messages.

For the next two minutes, a series of commercials plays on air. The host gets up and exchanges some words with the shows producers. Some of the guests use the facilities, while the rest stretch and prepare for the second half of the show. A little while later, its time to resume. NEAL: (speaking closely into the microphone) And now that weve been given some background on the guests, lets have an exchange of ideas. I want to reiterate the importance of the shows topic though, international education. Each of these guests has knowledge and data relevant to different concentrations on education, but their arguments will revolve around Americas place in the competitive market of education. Lets begin. Ill start with someone random ( looks from guest to guest and finally decides on Mike) How about you, Mike? MIKE: (somewhat surprised he was picked first) Oh, okay. Well, in the past couple of years, the OECD has noticed that some of its member countries have experienced an increase in income inequality. In the United States, similar to Turkey and Israel, the ratio of the richest to poorest is 14:1 (2). In a greater context, what this really means is that future opportunities for poorer children are limited. A parents income has a strong relationship with their childs success down the road. The OECD has found that in top performing countries like Finland, Canada, Japan, and South Korea, all top PISA performers, educational policies of-NEAL: And can you verify that claim, Howard? HOWARD: Yes, I can. Those four countries are above average in performance. MIKE: (continuing his unfinished thought) equity are used (2). Also, the poorest students did better than expected (resilient students). In conclusion, the United States needs to follow the path of some of the countries mentioned earlier. By placing emphasis on equity, what the child puts into the education, rather than the resources available to him or her already, the gap between rich and poor can close. More people will have job prospects. Income disparity should decrease. The nation as a whole can prosper and compete in job markets. ANDREAS: (seeming eager) Im going to jump in here. I like what youre saying, Mike. However, Im going to go a step further. What Ive found is that, over that period you me ntioned, and we can both agree on, is other countries outperforming us in math, reading, and science. The catch is that the United States hasnt gotten worse, but rather, many other nations have caught up and surpassed us. For example, two generations ago, South Korea had the economic output of Afghanistan today and was at rank 24 in terms of educational output among todays OECD countries. Today it is the top performer in terms of the proportion of school graduates, with 96% of an age cohort obtaining a high school diploma, compared with 75% in the United States (Schleicher 12). To get this country back on track, we need to make some adjustments. NEAL: And what might those be?