Surpassing Shanghai: Part II

Yesterday’s blog on Marc Tucker’s book Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems looked at five myths of the American education system pointed out by Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews. Matthews followed up his first article with one that focused on possible solutions to making American education more effective, He also noted that many of Tucker’s proposals are “heavily influenced by what is working overseas, particularly in Japan, Korea, Finland, Shanghai, Singapore and Canada.”­

First is to make admissions to teacher training more competitive by holding applicants to international standards. However, Matthews is skeptical on the feasibility of such a proposal because most schools in the U.S. cannot “survive financially without enrolling many average or below-average students.”

Second is to raise teachers’ salaries in order increase teacher retention rates, and thus reducing the costs of training new teachers. Third is to allow larger class sizes. Although putting more students in a classroom won’t directly boost performance, this allows schools to pay teachers more, which furthers the second goal. Additionally, PISA data has shown that large class sizes is not a good indicator of lower academic performance.

Fourth is to “end annual standardized testing.” Instead, Tucker suggests implementing three “federally required tests” throughout the K-12 education system. Not only will this save money and gain the support of teachers, but it should also allow these tests to be of much higher quality compared to the traditional multiple choice tests nowadays.

Fifth is devoting more resources to the students that need it. In Tucker’s ideal system, funding will be allocated based on both the number of students and the degree to which certain students need more help in order to reach educational standards.

Posted by: Pokyee Yu

Sources: Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems, The Washington Post

Photo Credit: Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems By Marc S. Tucker. 288 Pages. Harvard Education Press. $29.95.


Trending among governors: education reform

ImageGovernor Bobby Jindal signed his public education reform plan into law earlier this month and the media is abuzz about it. Some opinionated columnists have noted that there is still too much bureaucracy in education and that governors and presidents are not suited to running schools because they lack expertise in the field. Others have been inspired by Louisiana’s drastic and sweeping changes. In Michigan, for example, Governor Rick Snyder has just proposed transformational education reforms aimed at progressing the education system from days of farmers to one that prepares students for the digital age. The Governor believes that education is the long-term key to revitalizing the economy in Michigan.

Gov. Snyder’s plan includes a model called “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace,” which allows for a wide variety of learning experiences for students including school choice, blended learning and online education. School districts will have more control over the length of the school day, week, and year and more flexibility in instruction and classroom configuration. The plan includes removing the cap on the number of charter schools in a district with at least one failing school, offering college credit opportunities to high school students, rating schools and reevaluating teachers.

Through studies, interviews, testing, and documentaries, it has become very clear that effective teaching is not always what happens in the average public school classroom. In fact, almost half of America’s K-12 teachers graduated in the bottom third of their college classes. While in model education system countries like Finland, requires teachers to have master’s degrees and only 10 percent of applicants are accepted to teacher training. Another point made by critics of the U.S. system is that teachers don’t have enough autonomy. P.L. Thomas, associate professor at Furman University, wrote in The Atlantic that “teachers and principals must feel free to act on their best instincts.” This sentiment is felt elsewhere as well. Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy says that the reason Finland strategies are working is because, “they have created a set of policies that are producing teacher they can trust, while we here in the U.S., we are basically pursuing a set of policies that are designed for teachers we don’t trust.”

Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Sources: Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlantic,

Photo credit: Governor Rick Snyder courtesy of flickr user Frankenmuth Fun

The M in STEM

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education is a hot topic when discussing  K-12 education reform, but it seems as though some of the categories are getting more attention than others. Science and Technology are especially popular; the White House Science Fair and First Robotics reward innovation in science fields which often involve invention and independent research by students.  However, the excitement over STEM education hasn’t been as effective at popularizing the final category: math. An article by Reuters addressed this issue, and what people, private companies and internet learning sites are doing to combat the “uncoolness” of math.  “America has a cultural problem with math. It’s the subject, more than any other, that we as a country love to hate,” said Glen Whitney, a mathematician who develops algorithms for hedge funds. Whitney has since raised $22 million to build a Museum of Mathematics in New York City, due to open this fall.

The internet has also become proponents of math education. Khan Academy has hundreds of math related videos that cover topics from arithmetic to differential equations. DimensionU and MIT have taken a different route, by encouraging kids to play math games online, they become eligible to win prizes such as a tablet computer or a scholarship.

These recent developments in math education come in response to the lackluster rankings of U.S. high school students in math. While Americans do fairly well in elementary and middle school math, they begin to score below students from countries such as Slovenia and Iceland by age 15. Additionally, many high schools in the United States don’t offer advanced math, so there are fewer opportunities for students to excel.  Math teachers today blame the traditional approach to teaching math: classes aren’t creative enough; they aren’t fun. “It’s as if you took a little kid who really liked music and wanted piano lessons and said, ‘We’re going to have you practice scales and chords for the next 15 years, and then and only then will we teach you music,'” said Kathy Morris, an education professor at Sonoma State University in California.

Initiatives are underway in a few states for a common core curriculum that emphasizes reasoning and puzzle-solving math skills; initiatives that are gaining momentum from major corporations and philanthropies like Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Partnerships like these are a key to success: they have pledged to raise $24 million in order to recruit and train 100,000 new math and science teachers in the next ten years.

Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Sources: Reuters, DimensionU, Khan Academy

Photo credit: Calculator and notebook courtesy of flickr user THEMACGIRL*

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal introduces education overhaul legislation:

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has an ambitious overhaul plan for primary and secondary education that will be introduced in the legislative session that begins on March 12th. Jindal’s agenda is targeted at four major pieces of legislation: teacher tenure, charter schools, vouchers, and early childhood education.

Jindal’s plan for teacher tenure includes extending high performance evaluations to five years before tenure. Teachers would be evaluated as highly effective, effective, or ineffective. Highly effective ratings for five years merit tenure, while teachers who already have tenure are required to meet “effective” status to keep it. Ineffective teachers would be subject to dismissal, regardless of previous ratings. Jindal also wants to shift some of the power from the school boards to the superintendents and principals especially in regards to employment decisions.

Jindal also plans to expand charter schools and wants to allow parents in an “F”-ranked public school to vote to convert the school into a charter school.  The governor also would like to see public universities and nonprofits the ability to approve new charter schools.

In regards to vouchers, Jindal wants to re-allocate the state’s per-pupil spending to low-income students in poorly performing schools to pay private school tuition. Jindal’s spokesman said “we believe the money – all of it – should follow the student.” And in early childhood education, Jindal would mandate that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) would have the responsibility to oversee all state and federally funded early childhood education programs and would develop a goal setting program to ready children for kindergarten.

Nationally, Jindal is doing well among conservatives and has been in running among pundits to be groomed for the next generation of GOP candidates. “If Republicans in Washington are not panicked and trying desperately to pull Bobby Jindal in the race tomorrow, or someone like him, the party leaders must have a death wish,” Erick Erickson, a blogger from wrote. The Wall Street Journal said if Jindal gets his way, he could make Louisiana “the first (state) to effectively dismantle a public education monopoly.”

The State Senate Education Chairman Conrad Appel and Rep. Steve Carter will be carrying the bills while competing bills have been introduced by Senator Ben Nevers, Rep. Pat Smith, and Rep. Roy Burrell.


Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Sources: Times-Picayune NOLA, American Press, The Wall Street Journal

Photo Credit: Bobby Jindal, The Governor of Louisiana by flickr user Marc V. Genre


An Approach to Encouraging STEM Careers

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has released a report reevaluating STEM education and providing recommendations for the future.  The report, “Refueling the U.S. Innovation Economy: Fresh Approaches to STEM Education” provides a new framework for increasing STEM-bound graduates by creating new institutions, incentivizing students, providing better information, and partnering with other industries to increase cooperation.  The report focuses on ways to increase STEM-based careers that begin in early childhood schooling while encouraging students to pursue those fields.

The new approach, which differs from almost four decades of instituting a “some STEM for all” where students would receive varying amounts of STEM-related courses through K-12, now looks at specifically targeting those students deeply interested in the subject.  The report concludes that “[…] a more effective route to producing the five percent or so of workers who have the skills needed to be STEM workers is to embrace a system where student interests and passions for STEM are what drive curricula,” effectively allocating funding and attention to those keenly interested in pursuing a future with STEM.

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation

Photo credit: Math Steeplechase 2010-83 courtesy of flickr user Inkychack

Education, Innovation, and Manufacturing Outlook in the Lame-Duck Session

Before the Republicans prepare to take the gavel in the House, and as Democrats emerge with a smaller majority in the Senate in the 112th Congress, lawmakers will return to a lame-duck session filled with a number of unfinished legislative matters.  While most of the attention has been devoted to the status of the Bush-tax cuts, which are set to expire, there remain a number of other pieces of legislation that could potentially come up before the end of the year.

One is the Department of Education’s (DoE) 2011 spending bill.  While both chambers of Congress have agreed on specific appropriations within the bill, no compromise has been made as of yet.  One specific provision, the Investing in Innovation Grants, which provide funding to schools to create innovative programs and techniques for educational development, was slated for $400 million in the House but only $250 million in the Senate version.

Pivotal to the DoE is the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which has thus far stalled due to differences in how to implement standardized testing and how to deal with low performing schools. Also included in the reauthorization is a renewed focus on STEM based education backed by $300 million in appropriations in an attempt to re-take the lead in science and math.

Another item is President Obama’s infrastructure proposal, which is designed to upgrade the deteriorating highway, railroad, and airport systems across the country.  When making the case for this proposal, Obama highlighted the link between infrastructure and maintaining America’s innovative and competitive edge.

In addition to infrastructure and education the lame duck also may take up clean energy fuelimmigration reform, and patent reform.

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: CNN, Council on Foreign Relations, Department of Education, Education Week, Huffington Post,, Seeking Alpha

Photo credit: Washington DC – Capitol Hill: United States Capitol courtesy of flicker user wallyg

Linking Innovation to Education Standards

With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) pending, educators and politicians are mulling over how standards, either national or state-by-state, will deliver results and raise student achievements.

Earlier this week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the Virginia Governor’s Education Summit where he addressed the need for stronger innovation in teaching.  While addressing the crowd, he gave a personal anecdote about his how his children, who attend Virginia public schools, learn of the solar system through song instead of a textbook, an example of innovative learning techniques that move away from the “teach the test” mentality.  He went on to argue that this type of innovative teaching will help the country regain its status as an educational powerhouse.

Secretary Duncan has become a strong advocate for advancing national standards as a means to increase student success across the country, as they are pushing for legislation that is supportive of reform.  However, some local officials are objecting to setting national standards.

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who hosted the event, argued that he “would prefer that federal rules allow a choice between the national standards or equivalent state test,” Governor McDonnell made the decision not to let Virginia compete in the federally funded Race to the Top program earlier this summer.  Despite the differences in opinion between the two, McDonnell praised Duncan for his “relentless focus on setting high standards.”

At a Wilson Center event earlier this year, a group of Distinguished Einstein Fellows gathered to discuss this very issue.  One panelist, Kirk Janowiak argued that a balance must be found between standards.  “If they are made high enough to be meaningful, then we end up squashing the innovation of teaching, and we end up providing our teachers with scripts,” but continued by adding that if standards are too low  “we open up ourselves to the current trend we have of mediocrity.”

In an attempt to raise the bar in education, Janowiak argued that compromise must be reached between local and federal officials in order to ensure America’s educational success for the future.

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Photo credit: David Hawxhurst, Wilson Center