My favorite recent book on K-12 education (reform) is Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World (and how they got that way) (2013), which emphasizes new and impressive data comparing the success of students in school systems around the world. I recommend it very highly.
Here are some themes in that work (based on my notes).
• In countries in which education is more successful, there exists a consensus that education is a priority and that virtually all students can succeed in meeting standards, which are set high.
• In successful countries, education is regarded as serious, even vital. Hence, it is assumed that only the best should be chosen for teaching, and they should be well compensated and respected. (E.g., Finland. Very unlike the U.S.)
• Americans are hesitant about raising standards in schools, fearing this will hurt students. But kids around the world handle high standards well.
• Rigor is crucial and there is no rigor without failure. Kids need to learn to be resilient and to persevere. With regard to academic success, diligence is more important than anything. (To work, praise has to be specific and authentic and rare—not handed out like candy.)
• Drive is very important, the drive to succeed.
• We should ignore shiny objects: new technologies (interactive whiteboards, iPads), a focus on small class size, trendy theories (“self esteem,” “whole words”). Successful countries eschew such things in favor of applying high standards and expecting all students to succeed. In these countries, the teaching profession is very selective and teachers are well paid and respected. In the U.S., standards at teaching colleges are very low and the teaching profession is far from prestigious.
• Researchers have identified four parenting styles re childrens’ education: authoritarian, permissive, neglectful, and “authoritative.” Authoritative parents seem to be the most successful; they get their kids reading early, and they expect them to work hard on their studies, but, gradually, they back off and foster their children’s autonomy.
• Successful countries do not embrace “local control,” the American model, because it is inefficient and thwarts sensible and coherent education policy.
• In successful countries, sports are not considered part of education. Sports are a huge distraction in U.S. education, and they benefit few.
• Successful countries typically spend far less per student than does the U.S. Increased spending will do no good unless it is on the right things. Some poor countries (e.g., Poland) do a good job teaching their kids. Resources should be directed, not on new equipment or more teachers, but on better teaching, higher teacher salaries, and adopting high standards.
• The data suggest that “diversity” of the population (ethnic and otherwise) need not hinder reform/improvement (consider the case of Singapore, which does a good job despite considerable ethnic/language diversity).
• Many Americans embrace a groundless fatalism concerning student success and failure, as though many students simply don’t have the talent to succeed in, say, math. Successful countries demonstrate that virtually every child can learn, as they do, under the right circumstances, even in the U.S.
• Successful countries delay “tracking” students (i.e., separating children and placing them permanently on different tracks). In the U.S., tracking begins very early. E.g., the AP or "gifted" track. In subtle ways, U.S. students are indeed tracked. (For reasons not fully understood, the data clearly suggests that students at all levels benefit from a system that keeps kids together and on the same track. Successful countries create support systems for students who fall behind, but those students are returned to their original cohort asap; no one stays permanently in the special support system. See Singapore.)
• The U.S. should abandon its “backward math”—putting money where it is least needed (successful schools, students). Money should be directed to where it is most needed (low performing schools, etc.).
• High school should end with a test (and standards should not be dumbed down)—so that high school graduation becomes meaningful (in Finland, 95% of students pass the test).
|Schleicher: a scientist|
Warning: Schleicher refers to “student learning outcomes,” but he is using the term broadly to include such outcomes as high scores in traditional (and, I suppose, PISA-style) testing. The Outcomes Based Education approach (on improving learning) that our Accreditor embraces focuses on discrete SLOs per course, essentially, a peculiar step prior to testing. The kind of criticism of OBE I have offered here on DtB does not object to standardized tests. Successful countries do rely on a few, well-written standardized tests, such as the test typically given at the end of high school (in Europe), which students must pass in order to graduate.