Making a Success of Every School

The Wilson Center and the Program on America and the Global Economy are proud to share a recently released publication on U.S. education reform:

Paul Vallas, distinguished scholar and noted education reformer, identifies the main challenges facing U.S. education in the 21st century.  He notes that US performance on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks American 15 year olds as 17th in science and 25th in mathematics.  Vallas and others stress that American schools have not declined.  Rather it is a case of technology, a changing job market, and rising international competition demanding much more of America’s educational system.  Attracting and retaining top teachers is vitally important, but Vallas stresses that one cannot neglect early childhood education, school improvement-focused state and district governance, and a 21st century curriculum.

Click here to access the full report

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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.

Surpassing Shanghai: Part I

Marc Tucker’s 2011 book, Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems, is a response to the many skeptics of the decline of the American education system. Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews deemed the book “unsettling” because of the author’s presentation of evidence that shows why Americans are “running out of excuses” for declining standardized test scores. In his article, Matthews highlighted five of these “excuses” that many are using to justify America’s poor educational performance.

First is the belief that U.S. children score lower because many are from immigrant families who speak languages other than English. Using data from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, Tucker asserted that Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Hong Kong all have percentages of immigrant students at equal or higher rates than the U.S. Yet, they still outperform American students.

Second is the belief that the U.S. national average PISA scores are brought down by low-income students from urban schools. Tucker believes that this is false because the “U.S. suburban average is only slightly above average for all developed nations” in the OECD.

Third is the belief that the U.S. has a higher percentage of “disadvantaged students” than the top-performing countries. However, twenty-seven countries have a higher percentage of resilient students – students who are have low socio-economic status but still score very well – which suggests that their schools do a better job of “educating the students are who are most difficult to teach.”

Fourth is the belief that the U.S. should spend more on education to get better scores. Tucker responded by saying that where the money is spent matters much more than how much. Only one OECD country, Luxembourg, spends more per student than the U.S.

Fifth is the belief that reducing class sizes will lead to higher performance. There is little causal evidence to show that changing class sizes will affect performance. Instead, PISA data indicates that there is a correlation between higher salaries for teachers and performance.

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.