New education report chastises U.S. for not studying international models

(Image: Flickr Creative Commons/Editor B)

A new report (PDF) from the National Center on Education and the Economy has concluded the U.S. is not proactive enough in adopting successful education models from abroad.

The study used internal data and built upon similar research conducted by the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It scrutinized K-12 equivalent systems of learning in Canada, China, Finland, Japan and Singapore, determining, “that the strategies driving the best performing systems are rarely found in the United States,” while U.S. models are conspicuously absent in these leading countries.

International benchmarking has emerged as a crucial component in improving K-12 education domestically. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan convened a high-level policy summit in March, inviting domestic stakeholders like unions and administrators to meet with international delegates. The report also notes countries like Canada, Japan and Singapore import much of the best from abroad and tailor those qualities to fit their existing education policies. That practice, NCEE states, allows leading nations to avoid going “down blind alleys wasting large amounts of resources on initiatives that fail to pay off as countries that base their strategies on untested theories, which is what the United States has tended to do over the years.”

The report urges organized labor groups in education to shed their protectionist roles. NCEE says teachers unions should trade-in seniority and retention demands for greater autonomy. While such a standard allows for easier worker disqualification, it opens the door for teacher-led reform projects and a pay system that uses bonuses and other rewards to encourage forward thinking and risk taking. Secretary Duncan and the president have signed off on these ideas — the Race to the Top initiative includes these incentives.

The report draws on international models of teacher assessment, noting those systems treat educators like doctors, with very high standards for entering the field and a greater knowledge base coming into the classroom. Those high expectations permit teachers unions to play a crucial role in national policy decisions in countries like Finland and Canada.

The final pages are a call to policy arms for states, listing dozens of recommendations. The report argues state governments can be far more impacting than the federal government in improving education standards.

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