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Beyond the Classroom: 10 things to learn from other countries

By Staff | Jan 30, 2015

You may be aware of America’s recent dismal performances on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA was created to compare educational systems across the world. According to PISA (2009), students tested in the United States were average in math, science and reading. In Surpassing Shanghai (2011), Mark Tucker defines what makes countries like Finland and China successful on the PISA. It is clear that our current reform efforts in America seem to be going the opposite direction of other high-performing education systems. Current U.S. reform efforts include: teacher evaluation tied to test scores, merit pay to reward high-performing individuals and sanctions on schools that do not perform well on state assessments. According to Fullan (2014), these are the wrong drivers and will not improve our schools. These efforts instead create fear and further reduce the number of people interested in the field of education.

The list below tends to focus on building capacity rather than the use of sanctions due to low test scores. The right drivers should include: capacity building, developing social capital (the quality of the group), improving instruction and systemness (collective efforts). I think you will find elements of the right drivers found throughout the list below.

10 things we can learn from high performing educational systems:

1. High-performing systems pay their first-year teacher the equivalent of a beginning engineering salary.

2. High-performing systems have rigorous teacher preparatory programs. Finland requires master’s degrees for all teachers and also includes 2-3 years of practical training in schools.

3. High-performing systems view teachers with great respect, and the top quarter of students become teachers. Finland’s most popular profession is teaching.

4. High-performing systems view classrooms as learner-centered.

5. High-performing systems focus on educating the whole child.

6. High-performing systems have moved away from rote learning. Shanghai focuses on 21st century skills like communication, teamwork, problem solving and includes many real life experiences.

7. High-performing countries have a national curriculum, but are given autonomy over how they teach the material. Finland’s curriculum is seen more as a framework.

8. High-performing systems seldom use standardized testing. Finland tests only in grades 6 and 9, and all other assessments are established by the master teacher.

9. In high-performing systems education is the cornerstone of their culture.

10. High-performing systems work closely with teachers in developing policy and the education system is run by the educators themselves.

We are going the wrong direction in terms of accountability. Merit pay and punishment will not change and motivate people. We need the best of the best to go into teaching. Teacher pay needs to increase substantially and teacher prep programs need to include more training in schools. Teachers are not done learning after they graduate from college and it’s important that school districts continue to build the capacity of their teachers. We can learn from these countries, but we have to be open to new ideas that challenge the status quo.

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