Have We Gotten It Wrong on School Reform

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Center on Education Policy

A letter from Jack Jennings, CEO of the Center on Education Policy, analyzes a recent book by Marc S. Tucker titled Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems.  Tucker points out in his book that education reform has began to follow the business practice of benchmarking; 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted new common state standards for reading and mathematics that were developed based on the standards of other countries with the highest degrees of achievement.

In his book, Tucker analyzes Shanghai, Finland, Japan, Singapore and Ontario, countries and provinces that typically outperform Americans academically and identifies six factors that contribute to their success.

The regions fund schools equitably, which additional resources for those serving needy students, pay teachers competitively and comparably, invest in high-quality preparation, mentoring and professional development for teachers and leaders at government expense, provide time in the school schedule for collaborative planning and ongoing professional learning to continually improve instruction, organize a curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and lastly, test students rarely but carefully using measures that require analysis, communication and defense of ideas.

Jennings argues that the United States is now beginning to implement some standards of other countries but are just beginning to do so and that it is too early to see the effects. Jennings adds that “most other practices of high-achieving countries are not being implemented broadly and consistently in the U.S.” 

For example, teacher preparation programs vary widely in quality and many of the professional development efforts are short-term, disconnected or irrelevant, Jennings said.

Jennings closes his argument saying that not everything happening overseas is necessarily beneficial and applicable to the U.S. and that it is currently a good time to evaluate which reforms are working and make changes if need be.

To view a free version of this letter, please click here.