By the numbers

American teens are no better at reading or math than they were 15 years ago, according to key comparison test

PHOTO: Craig F. Walker, Denver Post

The reading skills of America’s 15-year-olds haven’t improved since 2000, while math skills have actually declined in recent years, according to new results from a test given to students across the world.

But science scores suggested one possible upside: a narrowing of the gap between affluent and poor students’ scores.

The test, known as PISA, is a key international yardstick for how much students are learning — and a justification that policy makers frequently cite for pushing schools and teachers to do better. But a tumultuous decade and a half since the test was first administered, U.S. students again landed near the middle of the pack in 2015.

“We’re losing ground – a troubling prospect when, in today’s knowledge-based economy, the best jobs can go anywhere in the world,” U.S. Education Secretary John King will say Tuesday at an event in Boston, according to his prepared remarks.

In science, though, the relationship between poverty and achievement is loosening. The U.S. saw the biggest jump in that measure of equity since 2006. The country’s share of “resilient” students — poor students who ended up in a top-scoring group across all countries — also grew, from 25 percent to 31 percent.

Andreas Schleicher, the director for education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which organizes the tests, said he could only offer a hypothesis about the cause of America’s apparent increase in equity.

“What certainly contributed: over the last decade, there has been more attention to underperforming schools and underperforming students,” he said.

In math, the average U.S. score was 470, below the 490 average of the tested countries. The picture was brighter in Massachusetts, one of two states with its own scores this year, where the average math score was 500. Singapore, the highest scoring nation, had an average score of 564.

U.S. students overall did better in reading, with an average score of 497, and in science, with an average score of 496.

Compared to the average among countries that participated, a bigger share of U.S. students say they enjoy learning about science. More U.S. students also say they expect to have a career in science than the international average.

names are in

Ten apply for vacant seat on the Memphis school board, but six live outside of seat’s district

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Former Shelby County Board of Education Chairwoman Teresa Jones confers with then Superintendent Dorsey Hopson during a 2015 school board meeting. Jones' seat is now up for an interim appointment.

Ten people have put their name in to become the next board member of Tennessee’s largest school district.

The appointee will fill the seat Teresa Jones vacated following her recent appointment as a municipal court judge, and would serve until the term expires in August 2020, not October as previously reported.

The interim member will join the school board at a crucial time, amid the search for a new superintendent to replace Dorsey Hopson, who left the district in December. Currently, Joris Ray is serving as interim superintendent.

Jones’ district 2 serves neighborhoods including North Memphis, Binghampton, and Berclair. Six applicants live outside of the district and Shelby County Commissioner Michael Whaley said this would likely prevent them from an appointment, but the commission is seeking clarity from the state and election commission.

Whaley also said the interim appointment was extended to August 2020 because Tennessee law doesn’t specify that special elections are necessary for the school board, so the interim will finish out Jones’ term.

The county commission is scheduled to name a successor on Monday Feb. 25, a day before the school board’s meeting that month. The commission is slated to interview candidates Wednesday at 10 a.m., but Whaley said more names could be added by commissioners prior to the vote on Monday We’ve linked to their full applications below.

Applicants are:

Althea Greene

  • She is a retired teacher from Memphis City Schools and childcare supervisor with Shelby County Schools. She is currently Pastor of Real Life Ministries.

Arvelia Chambers

  • She is a senior certified pharmacy technician with Walgreens. She said she’s a “passionate aunt” of three children in Shelby County Schools.
  • Her listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Aubrey Howard

  • He works as the executive director of governmental and legislative affairs in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. He formerly worked for the City of Memphis, and said in his application that he previously ran for school board and lost.

Charles McKinney

  • He is the Neville Frierson Bryan Chair of Africana Studies and associate professor of history at Rhodes College. He is on the board of Crosstown High Charter School, and is the father of two Shelby County Schools students.

David Brown

  • He is the executive director of digital ministry at Brown Missionary Baptist Church and graduated from  Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly east of District 2.

Erskine Gillespie

  • Gillespie previously ran for City Council district 7 but lost. He is an account manager at the Lifeblood Mid-South Regional Blood Bank. He said in his application that he was one of the first students to enter the optional schools program in the Memphis district.

Kenneth Whalum, Jr.

  • He is a pastor at The New Olivet Worship Center and previously served as a school board member for the former Memphis City Schools; he was first elected in 2006. He has vocally opposed the process behind the 2013 merger of the city school system with legacy Shelby County Schools.
  • Whalum ran against school board member Kevin Woods in 2012 and lost.
  • His listed address is near the University of Memphis, not in District 2.

Makeda Porter-Carr

  • She is a research administrator at St. Jude Research Hospital.
  • Her listed address is in southeast Memphis, not in District 2.

Michael Hoffmeyer Sr.

  • He is the director of the University of Memphis’ Crews Center for Entrepreneurship in which he works with college and high school students. He graduated from Craigmont High School.
  • His listed address is slightly north of District 2.

Tyree Daniels

  • He helped found Memphis College Prep charter school. He lost to Jones in a school board race in 2012. Daniels is now a part of Duncan-Williams Inc. — the firm handling public financing for the project Union Row.
  • His listed address is in east Memphis, not in District 2.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.