Saturday, May 28, 2011

An American Agenda for Education Reform

Recently, the National Center on Education and the Economy released a report entitled "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform" by Marc S. Tucker. The report examines the education systems of Finland, Japan, Singapore, Shanghai and Ontario, Canada as a point of comparison for the American system. Below are excerpts from that report:

"...Put these three points together—highly qualified college educated women and minorities abandoning teaching as a career, the drop in admission standards following the baby boom and the decision by many capable students to avoid teaching because of the widespread teacher layoffs, and we can see the danger ahead for the United States. All we need to do to acquire a very poor teaching force is nothing. Inaction, not action, will bring about this result. It is critical that this trend be reversed. We cannot afford to continue bottom fishing for prospective teachers while the best performing countries are cream skimming.

...There are no “alternative routes” to entering the teaching force in Finland. The only way to become a teacher in Finland is to get a university degree in teaching. 

...At the International Summit on the Teaching Profession convened by Secretary Duncan in New York City in March 2011, the Minister of Education of Singapore offered the observation that the goal of compensation policy ought to be to “take compensation off the table” as a consideration when able young people are making career decisions. There was wide agreement on that point among the ministers of the other top-performing countries around the table.
...The United States is far from the Singapore minister’s standard. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, teachers earn a national average starting salary of $30,377. That compares with $43,635 for computer programmers, $44,668 for accountants and $45,570 for registered nurses. None of these occupations are among the leading professions, which provide starting salaries that are even higher. Not only do teachers make markedly less than other occupations requiring the same level of education, but census data shows that teachers have been falling farther and farther behind the average compensation for occupations requiring a college degree for 60 years.

...As we have seen, the prevailing view in the United States is that our teachers need not come from the more able strata of the college-educated population. We behave as if we believe that only a few weeks of training is needed to do what they have to do, a sure sign that we do not believe teaching is a profession at all.
...Any country that recruits its teachers from the higher ranges of the applied ability distribution will quickly find that—in order to keep them—it has to train them in high quality, high status universities, support them well once hired and offer them decent pay and professional work environments, and—not least—trust them to do the right thing.

...It turns out that neither the researchers whose work is reported on in this paper nor the analysts of the OECD PISA data have found any evidence that any country that leads the world’s education performance league tables has gotten there by ...implementing any of the major agenda items that dominate the education reform agenda in the United States. We include in this list the use of market mechanisms such as charter schools and vouchers, the identification and support of education entrepreneurs to disrupt the system, and the use of student performance data on standardized tests to identify teachers and principals who are then rewarded on that basis for the value they add to a student’s education or who are punished because they fail to do so.
...They insisted on high standards but they listened hard to what the teachers had to say about the support they needed to raise student achievement to those standards. They decided that the highest leverage strategy available to them was to the capacity and professional skill and commitment of their in-place teaching force. They focused on what it would take to build capacity at every level of the system to deliver, and wherever possible, supplied it. They made a point of trusting teachers and the teachers returned their trust.”
Continue Reading the Full Report: