Thursday, April 26, 2012

Inquirer: U.S. vs. the world in education reform

Last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the nation’s most expansive school voucher program into law. Since the GOP sweep of statehouses in 2010, similar measures have been introduced by the legislatures of more than 30 states — including Pennsylvania, where a bipartisan school voucher bill was defeated in the House in December.

Few doubt that there is a crisis in America’s public schools. But focusing so much attention on where money is spent — instead of how — oversimplifies a complex problem.

Real reform will require replacing our top-down system focused on arbitrary benchmarks and administrative minutiae with one that places a highly skilled class of teachers at the vanguard. We know this because it’s a long-standing recipe for success in the countries that consistently out-educate us.

A stubborn faith in American exceptionalism — and in the ability of money to solve every problem — has left us mired in industrial-age education policy. Meanwhile, countries such as Estonia, Slovenia, Singapore, and China have bounded ahead. If U.S. officials took notice, they chose to remain silent.

Fortunately, that’s beginning to change. In 2010, at the behest of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a study detailing the strategies of the countries that ranked highest in its educational assessments. Last fall, the National Center on Education and the Economy updated the findings to develop a series of recommendations for U.S. policymakers.

A glance reveals a handful of tried-and-true strategies, most diametrically opposed to America’s. They include diverting resources to students who need them most, putting less emphasis on class sizes and more on teacher autonomy, and keeping standardized testing to a minimum. Continue reading at