Reverse Mentoring … on Global Education

Maybe, this author is suggesting, Americans need to abandon exceptionalism and start listening a bit…

Reverse mentoring when it comes education across the globe: “Most Atlantic readers know that, although the U.S. spends more per student on K-12 education than any other nation except Luxembourg, students in a growing number of nations outperform our own. But think about this: Among the consistent top performers are not only developed nations (Japan, Finland, Canada), but developing countries and mega-cities such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Even if we find a way to educate our future work force to the same standards as this latter group — and we are a very long way from that now — wages in the United States will continue to decline unless weoutperform those countries enough to justify our higher wages. That is a very tall order. You would think that, being far behind our competitors, we would be looking hard at how they are managing to outperform us. But many policymakers, business leaders, educators and advocates are not interested. Instead, they are confidently barreling down a path of American exceptionalism, insisting that America is so different from these other nations that we are better off embracing unique, unproven solutions that our foreign competitors find bizarre.”

The top-performing nations have followed paths that are remarkably similar and straightforward. Most start by putting more money behind their hardest-to-educate students than those who are easier to educate. In the U.S., we do the opposite.

They develop world-class academic standards for their students, a curriculum to match the standards, and high-quality exams and instructional materials based on that curriculum. In the U.S., most states have recently adopted Common Core State Standards in English and math, which is a good start. But we still have a long way to go to build a coherent, powerful instructional system that all teachers can use throughout the whole curriculum.

The top-performing nations boost the quality of their teaching forces by greatly raising entry standards for teacher education programs. They insist that all teachers have in-depth knowledge of the subjects they will teach, apprenticing new teachers to master teachers and raising teacher pay to that of other high-status professions. They then encourage these highly trained teachers to take the lead in improving classroom practices.

The result is a virtuous cycle: teaching ranks as one of the most attractive professions, which means no teacher shortages and no need to waive high licensing standards.

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  • Having my children in the gymnasium system here in Munich this semester has left me wondering why we can’t see some very obvious changes the American system needs to make. Mainly, children have to be grouped according to two factors: behavior and aptitude. Those with the worst behavior and those with the greatest aptitude need the most attention, IMO.

  • I am increasingly convinced that our schools will not significantly improved until a couple things happen. 1) End local funding and local control. The reality is that poor neighborhoods spend less money but have higher costs and local control allows all kinds of worthless unproven initiatives that usually are changed to a new initiative before anything is allowed to happen. This will probably happen at a larger level of control, but at least the infrastructure would be large enough that inertia would keep things moving in the right direction. 2) Complete revamp of special education and other programs of special assistance. Again on NPR this morning was another article about the fact that local schools are the only ones that take severely disabled children. I understand why small schools and especially small charter schools do not think that they can adequately serve special education. But let’s not pretend that they are doing better at serving all children if they are not actually serving those that are the most difficult to teach. 3) Put some real money and research into how to evaluate teachers. We know that good teachers are the biggest difference between kids. The difference between three years of a good teacher and three years of a bad teacher is more than 1.5 years of learning. The problem is that it is actually pretty hard to evaluate objectively while maintaining the individuality that makes really good teachers really good.

  • RJS

    Personally I would say that this article is not very useful. Of course we can learn from others – but this article actually gives no help, no analysis, no values…

  • PLTK

    I couldn’t get past the first paragraph where it marks South Korea and Hong Kong as “developing.” Huh? Both rank ahead of Finland and not much below the US, Canada and Japan.

  • JohnM

    For one thing – what PLTK #4 said. Then, it really boils down to what RJS, #3 said. In the first place I’d want to know – Who decides which countries are “top performing”, according to what criteria do they make that determination, and why do those factors really matter at the end of the day? Maybe there are good answers to those questions, but the only result I see mentioned is “teaching ranks as one of the most attractive professions”.

  • Craig Wright

    I have been retired for 3 years, after teaching 37 years in the public schools, although I still substitute in high school . I taught in the Los Angeles area (one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world). Many of my students were from immigrant families. This is a unique challenge that those other countries are not dealing with. I also don’t understand the author’s position about expenditures. I taught in a poverty area, and we had extra federal funding because of the challenges we dealt with. From data I have seen, our middle class students in the U.S. are outperforming most of those other countries, and I am always amazed at how well some of our poor, non-English students are doing.

  • As Craig brings up, we do have to be careful to look at how these figures are determined. The numbers can be … fudged, or simply counted differently.

    For example, some countries count the deaths of severely premature babies as “infant deaths,” and some do not — leading to better infant death rates.

    In the same way, we have to be sure we know who is being counted — and excluded — from reports of test scores as well as consider differing populations. For example, Texas has poorer test scores than many other states, but when broken down by race, their scores look much better; the problem is the high number of minority students (who do well compared to minority students in other states) bringing down the average compared to states with smaller minority populations.

    All that said, I really think our schools waste a lot of time on non-productive work, especially at the elementary level.