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international education systems ’
Over the last several years, critics of public education in the United States have regularly turned to data provided by the Europe-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) through its student assessment initiative, the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA). (Two other international assessment programs similar to PISA have also been implemented. Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) is administered to a sample of 4th and 8th graders every 4 years, including 2011. Progress in International Reading (PIRLS) is administered to a sample of 4th graders every five years, including 2011. The methodologies employed in all three assessments are similar, so comments I make regarding PISA generally apply to the other assessment programs as well.)
Every three years, PISA administers a common assessment to a sample of 15-year-old students in participating countries. In the most recent 2009 cycle, PISA assessments were administered in 65 countries/economies. Each assessment surveys student achievement in three domains: (1) reading literacy, (2) mathematical literacy, and (3) science literacy, with one of these being the primary focus. For the 2009 cycle, the focus was reading literacy with questions in this domain comprising about 60 percent of the assessment.
From these assessment data, individual country profiles describing student achievement are prepared along with various reports seeking to compare achievement across participating countries/economies. The comparison reports have been popular within the United States as a basis for criticizing public education and justifying the call for education reform. Based on average test scores for 2009, the United States ranked 17th in reading literacy, 30th in mathematics literacy, and 23rd in science literacy. These “low” rankings must signal a problem, right? As we shall see, these ranking may or may not be correct, and even if they are, more analysis is needed to understand their significance. Simple rank order displays rarely reveal much about the complexities of student achievement.
While my posts over the last couple weeks have only engaged a portion of the education reform program that Marc Tucker suggests in “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,” I nevertheless hope that more of you take the opportunity to tackle the text on your own. When I finished reading the entire report (online here), I was part enthralled and part enraged by what he was intimating.
On the one hand, I share Tucker’s passion for wanting to make our system stronger—and I was captivated by the daring he suggest in attempting to reboot the system. At the same time, my enthusiasm was tempered at points by his comparisons, as I believe at times he simplified the reasons that other national systems are so successful, and that we cannot—mainly because of politics—adopt the reforms he suggests (to be fair, my dismay there is partly directed at those who would rather remain fighting than moving toward a real solution). Nevertheless, in recognizing my ambivalent feelings, I realized that Tucker’s plan may ultimately be what the American public needs as a blueprint for true educational reform.
What I have found empowering about Tucker’s approach is that it contains elements that both reassure and challenge any group involved in American education.
In continuing my take on Marc Tucker’s report “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” (read a summary here), I wanted to focus this post on his suggestions for teacher education programs in the United States. (See my previous post about his opinion on charter schools and teacher pay.)
As an education professor, my interest piqued with Tucker’s focus on Schools of Education. Since joining the faculty at Concordia University last year (after ten years as a high school teacher), I have been more aware of the critical roles that teacher preparation programs play in establishing the character and skills of teachers as they enter into the profession. Thus, Tucker’s decision to devote time to their strengths and weaknesses provided an opportunity for me to examine my own practice as well as the state of all schools working to prepare educators.
Among several observations, Tucker concludes that standards for teacher preparation programs need to be higher. He explains that a low bar has led to teachers who are coming from the bottom third of college entrants, and that their mastery of content knowledge is suspect. Tucker argues that low expectations within colleges of education nationally have also led to these colleges being seen by universities as “second class citizens” on campus as well, which leads to fewer institutional supports (research grants, etc). All of these issues contribute to teachers being ill-equipped to succeed in the classroom.
Tucker has several proposals to address these issues. (more…)
Marc Tucker, in his recent report, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” made some strident observations about education reform in the United States, and after spending some time with it, I’d like to explore some of his proposals over the next few blog posts.
For those who haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire report, the Chalkboard team offered a summary in their recent Research Update. In short, Tucker is the head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and crafted this report after a summit of various education ministers from around the globe. Commissioned by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the summit sought to investigate what the “best” nations were doing well in order to learn how to improve our beleaguered education system in the U.S.
This particular document drew some interesting conclusions—in fact, I found myself startled at some of Tucker’s claims. One was the ineffectiveness of charter schools as a means of true reform. Tucker feels that the gains made by charters are too sporadic and, ultimately, these schools are more prone to fail than succeed. I appreciated the insight since two of my children are educated in Portland charter schools.
There is so much education research out there focused on the myriad details that it’s hard to keep track of it all. But the latest study that’s generating buzz—and standing out—in reform circles zooms out and examines education from a big picture, global perspective.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform by Marc S. Tucker is a report that actually stems from the last two chapters of a book that will be published in September by Harvard Education Press. The project began when Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to study the education strategies that other countries have used to outpace us.
American students are now ranked below those in almost 40 developed nations in terms of science, math and reading according to a study by the Programme for International Student Assessment, and this new report shows that the most popular tactics in the US—like smaller class sizes and charter schools—are not making the significant difference that has been hoped for.
The National Center on Education and Economy, a Washington DC think tank, picked up the work and focused on education systems in the highest performing countries—Finland, Singapore, Japan, China (Shanghai), and Canada (Ontario)—to see what we may learn from their successes.