Monday, January 2, 2012

Ten things we can learn from high performing education systems in other countries.

We need to accept the fact and admit to ourselves that our educational system is failing.  I know it is tough as an American to do this, but it is essential to fixing it for the better.  It is no secret we are falling behind other countries in education.  We need to look at their successes and learn from them.

According to PISA (2009), we are average in Math, Science, and Reading.  Reforming education needs to be on the forefront if we are to remain competitive globally.  According Mark Tucker, editor of Surpassing Shanghai, "We are in a period of slow decline."  After reading most of the book, I have put together a top ten list of items I found to to be the most important.

Ten things we can learn from high performing educational systems:
  1. High performing systems pay their first year teacher the equivalent of a beginning engineering salary. 
  2. High performing systems have rigorous teacher preparatory programs (Ex. Finland requires master degrees for all teachers, they include 2-3 years of practical training in schools)
  3. High performing systems view teachers with great respect, and the top quarter of students become teachers. (Ex. Finland's most popular profession is teaching)
  4. High performing systems view classrooms as learner-centered (Ex. When students enter grades 10-12 they are expected to take charge of their own learning)
  5. High performing systems focus on educating the whole student. 
  6. High performing systems have moved away from rote learning (Ex. Shanghai focuses on 21st century skills like, communication, teamwork, problem solving and includes many real life experiences)
  7. High performing countries have a national curriculum, but are given autonomy over how they teach the material.  (Ex. Finland's curriculum is seen more as a framework) 
  8. High performing systems seldom use standardized testing.  (Ex. Finland test only in grades 6 and 9, all other assessments are established by the master teacher.)
  9. In high performing systems, education is the corner stone of their culture.  
  10. High performing systems work closely with teachers in developing policy, the education system is run by the educators themselves or sought for advice.
We are going the wrong direction in terms of accountability.  We need to make the profession respectable again.  Merit pay and punishment will not change and motivate people.  (If you believe "if then" rewards will motivate then you need to read Drive

We need the best of the best to go into teaching to turn this around.  For that to happen teacher pay and the rigor of teacher prep programs needs to increase substantially.   Arizona State University seems to be going the right direction in beginning their innovative teacher prep program.  

If you haven't had a chance to watch this video, please take some time to do so.  The authors of Surpassing Shanghai discuss their book.  

We can learn from these countries, but we have to be open to new ideas that challenge the status quo.  


  1. A good post. It is interesting that governments find it so difficult to institute quality educational change even when best practice is staring them in the face. The attitude of governments that say we know best and don't consider other possibilities is a narrow minded and dangerous path to take.

  2. I agree with several of your ideas, Mike. We need to do a better job in preparing and supporting beginning teachers, as well as with creating schools that are more professional organizations. I have been in too many schools where the bureaucratic structure hinders both. In my opinion, the first two approaches to reforming public education in the U.S. should include: de-emphasizing the importance of accountability testing; and creating schools that function as professional bureaucracies.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Ensuring novices do not enter until they have shadowed/apprenticed a master/mentor for a minimum if one full academic session would and should and must become the first step towards in-house teacher prep...