By Emma Brown August 9 at 12:11 PM
What will it take for U.S. schools to improve — not incrementally, but dramatically?
That’s the question that a bipartisan group of state lawmakers from around the country set out to answer two years ago, when they embarked on a study of the world’s highest-performing school systems. They compiled their answers in a report released Tuesday at the annual summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“The bad news is most state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world in a number of international comparisons,” says the report. “The good news is, by studying these other high-performing systems, we are discovering what seems to work.”
The group examined 10 nations that fare well on international comparisons, including China, Canada, Singapore, Estonia, Japan, Poland and Korea, and discovered common elements: strong early childhood education, especially for disadvantaged children; more selective teacher preparation programs; better pay and professional working conditions for teachers; and time to help build curriculum linked to high standards.
It also says that high-performing countries tend not to administer standardized tests annually, as the United States does, but instead at key transition points in a student’s career. The assessments emphasize essays over multiple-choice in an effort to gauge students’ complex thinking skills, according to the report. And the tests cost more than states are used to paying for standardized tests, but “these countries prioritize this investment as a small fraction of the total cost of their education system, knowing that cheaper, less effective, less rigorous assessments will not lead to world-class teaching or high student achievement.”
The report — which comes as a new federal education law returns considerable power to shape public education to the states — urges state lawmakers to build a coherent vision for better schools instead of adopting piecemeal reforms.
“Education is first and foremost a state responsibility. Each state can develop its own strategies for building a modern education system that is globally competitive, similar to the approach taken by other high-performing countries,” the report says. “But we must begin now. There’s no time to lose.”
The report does not address some of the more controversial and partisan issues that state legislatures face, such as the role of charter schools, vouchers and other school-choice initiatives.
The report’s findings echo many of the ideas that teachers unions support. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised the bipartisan committee, saying it had “set aside political ideologies to work together for what’s best for students and educators.”
The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, “creates an educational reset, with the states now being the movers and shakers,” Weingarten said. “This is a rare opportunity in the United States to look at some of the best international practices and apply them here.”
Here are the members of the committee that worked on the report:
Rep. Robert Behning, Ind.
Rep. Harry Brooks, Tenn.
Rep. Tom Dickson, Ga.
Rep. Ken Dunkin, Ill.
Sen. Joyce Elliot, Ark.
Sen. John Ford, Okla.
Rep. Eric Fresen, Fla.
Rep. Lynn Gattis, Alaska
Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, N.H.
Rep. Wendy Horman, Idaho
Rep. Betty Komp, Ore.
Sen. Peggy Lehner, Ohio
Sen. Rich Madaleno, Md.
Sen. Luther Olsen, Wis.
Rep. Alice Peisch, Mass.
Sen. Robert Plymale, W.Va.
Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, Wash.
Rep. Jacqueline Sly, S.D.
Sen. David Sokola, Del.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, Utah
Rep. Roy Takumi, Hawaii
Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, Nev.
State legislative staff
Ben Boggs, legislative analyst, Ky. legislature
Todd Butterworth, senior research analyst, Nev. legislature
Rachel Hise, lead principal analyst, Md. legislature
Julie Pelegrin, assistant director of the office of legislative legal services, Colo. legislature
Phil McCarthy, senior analyst, Maine legislature
Anita Thomas, legal counsel, N.D. legislature
NCSL education staff
Julie Davis Bell, group director
Michelle Exstrom, program director
Lee Posey, federal affairs counsel
Madeleine Webster, policy associate
Barbara Houlik, staff coordinator
Daaiyah Bilal-Threats, National Education Association
Dane Linn, Business Roundtable
Scott S. Montgomery, ACT
Chris Runge, American Federation of Teachers
Adrian Wilson, Microsoft Corp.
National Center on Education and the Economy
and Center on International Education Benchmarking Staff:
Marc Tucker, president
Betsy Brown Ruzzi, vice president and director of CIEB
Nathan Driskell, policy analyst
via Washington post