Articles in the Comparative Education category

Ravitch: We can learn a lot from Finland — and from our own public schools

Diane Ravitch praised the Finnish schools in a recent speech in Washington, D.C. But it was another nation’s public education system — and the remarkable progress it has made over the past 40 years — that most impressed the celebrated author and education historian.

What country is this? The United States, of course. During that time, student achievement has increased overall, even as today’s student population has become more racially, economically, and culturally diverse. Graduation rates also are rising. And “dropout rates,” said Ravitch, a keynote speaker at NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, “are the lowest they’ve been in history.”

But if you read some of the anti-public school literature out there, or watched some purportedly “balanced” news reports, you could easily be fooled into thinking something much different, said Ravitch, who spoke at the Economic Policy Institute about her new book on public school reform, Reign of Error.

As an example, Ravitch cited a 2012 report called “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, now head of Rupert Murdoch’s strongly pro-voucher News Corp. The report claims, contrary to the evidence Ravitch cites in the Long-Term Trend report of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), that U.S. schools are so bad they have “become a grave security risk.”

Ravitch devotes much of her new book to the high performing public schools in Finland, a place where she says teaching is a highly respected — and highly selective — occupation, where teachers and principals belong to a common union, and where public education of the highest quality is seen as a national obligation.

“They don’t have charters,” Ravitch said. “They don’t have vouchers. …. There is no Teach for Finland.”

U. S. schools are doing a lot right, too, Ravitch said. In fact, some of the highest-scoring nations on international tests — Singapore among them – are looking at how U.S. schools embrace creativity and teach problem-solving skills. Ironically, with the recent emphasis on high-stakes testing, she added, “We’re moving in the opposite direction.”

“And now we have kindergarten children taking bubble-in tests,” Ravitch said. “This is insane.”

Ravitch criticized the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, which she said “has put $5 billion into the pursuit of higher test scores.” She said the money could have been put to better use in efforts to address the growing segregation of many public schools by race and income, particularly in the South and West.

“We’re not trying to solve the real problem, which is child poverty,” Ravitch said. “Poverty is the elephant in the room.”

Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also spoke at the event. Weingarten said budget cuts have harmed school systems across the country, opening them up to criticism and threats of privatization. However, studies consistently show that privatization does not lead to higher student performance while resulting, in many instances, in greater economic and racial segregation.

Lawrence Hardy|October 22nd, 2013|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Board governance, Charter Schools, Comparative Education, Conferences and Events, Curriculum, Diversity, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, Privatization, Race to the Top (RTTT), School Board News, School Vouchers, Student Achievement, Student Engagement|

NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference to feature Geena Davis, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Diane Ravitch

Registration and housing for the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 73rd Annual Conference, to be held April 13 to 15 in San Diego, is now open. Join more than 5,000 school board members and administrators for an event with hundreds of sessions, workshops, and exhibits that will help your school district programs and help you hone your leadership and management skills.

General Session speakers include Academy Award winning speaker Geena Davis, who will be speaking about her work off-screen as founder of the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Davis works with film and television creators to reduce gender stereotyping and increase the number of female characters in media targeted for children 11 and under. She will explain how media plays a key role in children’s development, and how her organization is making a difference.

Television star Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world’s most engaging and passionate science advocates, will headline Sunday’s General Session. From PBS to NASA to Presidential Commissions, organizations have depended on Tyson’s down-to-earth approach to astrophysics. He has been a frequent guest on “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, R”eal Time with Bill Maher”, and “Jeopardy!”. Tyson hopes to reach “all the people who never knew how much they’d love learning about space and science.”

Monday’s General Session features acclaimed researcher and author Diane Ravitch, who has become one of the most passionate voices for public schools. Her most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, makes the case that public education today is in peril and offers a clear prescription for improving public schools.

Learn more about the common core standards, new research on differentiated learning styles, and teaching “unteachable” children at the Focus On lecture series. Learn about new technologies for your classrooms as part of the Technology + Learning programs.

Special discounted rates are available for early registrants who sign up by Jan. 10, 2013. NSBA National Affiliate and Technology Leadership Network Districts save even more.

View the conference brochure for more details. Be sure to check the Annual Conference website for updates and more information.

 

 

The week in blogs: Who’s got the most determined students?

Here’s a little quiz about cultural norms, brought to you with the help of education blogger Joanne Jacobs. Match the three hypothetical comments – which have to do with how young people view luck, talent, opportunity, destiny, etc. – with students in North America, Europe, or China:

  1. 1.     “My father was a plumber, so I’m going to be a plumber.”
  2. 2.     “I’m [either] born talented in mathematics or I’m born less talented, so I’ll study something else.”
  3. 3.     “[My progress] depends on the effort I invest, and I can succeed if I study hard.”

If you said No. 3 must be North America because of its work ethic, democratic institutions, or social mobility – well, you would be wrong, according to Andreas Schleicher, who runs the international test known as PISA. The correct answer is China. (For the record, Europe is 1, and North America is 2.)

At least, that’s Schleicher’s opinion, expressed in a BBC article, China: The World’s Cleverest County, by Sean Coughlan.

We’ve heard about — and perhaps over-generalized about — the Asian work ethic. But Jacobs is skeptical that simply working hard and believing you can succeed is enough to get you ahead in an authoritarian nation where students, like everyone else, are routinely sorted, and where the well-connected have a distinct advantage over the poor.

Speaking of China and its education system, read the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss on the latest efforts by ambitious Chinese students and teachers to raise standardized test scores: Hooking up students to IVs of amino acids, which they believe enhance memory.

Moving across the ocean: Was Mitt Romney a prep school bully some four decades ago? Does it matter? Read This Week in Education’s Alexander Russo about a provocative Washington Post article on the presidential candidate’s years at Michigan’s Cranbrook School.

On Tuesday, NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant will speak at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum on school boards and the role of businesses with them, notes Eduwonk

Lawrence Hardy|May 11th, 2012|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Assessment, Bullying, Comparative Education, High Schools, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

U.S. compares favorably on hours spent in school

As school board members and administrators, you may have heard the charge that U.S. students spend less time in school than their peers in other countries. It fits with the notion that we in the United States aren’t as serious about education as such top-performing nations as Finland, or up-and-coming competitors such as India and China.

There are two problems with the above assertion, according a new report from NSBA’s Center for Public Education titled Time in School: How Does the U.S. Compare? One, it isn’t true: U.S. students spend just as many, or more, hours in class than in countries like China, and Finland. And, secondly: Sheer time in class is not a good indicator of educational excellence.

“Providing extra time is only useful if that time is used widely,” says the study, written by Jim Hull, the Center’s senior policy analyst. “As the Center’s report Making Time found, the relationship between time and student learning is not about the amount of time spent in school. Rather, it is how effectively that time is used. And this report has also shown that there is no relationship between simply requiring more time and increased achievement.”

To compare time spent in school, the Center looked at international data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Data on Education Seventh Edition 2010-11. Because minimum hours in the United States are set by individual states, the Center used for comparison data from five states that enroll a significant number of U.S. students: California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts.

In most cases, U.S. students were required to attend as many, or more, hours of class as their international counterparts. For example, at the middle school level, the number of hours of instruction ranged from a low of 777 hours in top-performing Finland to 1,001 hours in Italy, an average performer.

“Three of our five large states, New York (990 hours), Texas (1,260 hours) and Massachusetts (990 hours) would rank near the top of all industrialized nations in number of hours required,” the report said. “California and Florida would rank near the middle at 900 hours but still above the OECD average of 886 hours.”

More important than total hours is the way schools use them, the report said. It said that school districts should evaluate how effectively they use existing school time and consider alternatives.

Lawrence Hardy|December 9th, 2011|Categories: 21st Century Skills, Center for Public Education, Comparative Education, Governance|Tags: , |

Analysis: NBC learned its lesson with this Education Nation

Glenn Cook, American School Board Journal’s editor-in-chief, attended NBC’s Education Nation summit in New York for the second straight year. Here are his observations.

You can’t blame traditional public school advocates if they were filled with dread when NBC announced that Education Nation would return this fall. Last year the network bought into the hype surrounding the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” inexplicably tying the event to a flawed film that exhorted charters as the pancea for public education’s ills.

Thankfully, NBC has learned its lesson. This year’s event took pains to correct past wrongs as it recognized the complexities school leaders face in managing a public system that is open to all.

Starting with a screening of “American Teacher,” a documentary that helped erase some of the “bad teachers” taste left by “Superman,” and ending with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton, Education Nation featured a strong balance of heavy hitters from education, philanthropy, and politics.

You also had a touch of celebrity — basketball player Lebron James, actress Jennifer Garner, and what amounted to a family reunion with former Gov. Jeb Bush and First Lady Laura Bush participating in sessions — but in this case, it fit the overall tone.

The key word here is balance. Last year’s programming was flawed because it exhorted simple antidotes to complex problems. This year, silver bullets were nowhere to be found, but calls for more effective teaching and improvements to early education were.

You can watch many of the sessions online at www.educationnation.com, but here is my list of highlights:

• Start with “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters,” a fascinating hour-long session featuring Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, and three university professors. Held on Monday morning, it was the best, most concise presentation I’ve seen yet on why we need to reach children much, much earlier than we do.

• The dramatic rise in poverty rates was a focus throughout, especially in the session “What’s in a Zip Code?” moderated by Brian Williams. Poverty is reality for many people in today’s economy — Clinton was eloquent on this topic in the closing session — and communities must come together to do more.

• Education Secretary Arne Duncan was everywhere this year, participating in interviews with Tom Brokaw and responding to questions during various panels (a nice touch).

• We saw an entertaining back and forth between Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Diane Ravitch, author and professor of education at New York University. Their approaches are so different, but both made excellent points. Canada and Sal Khan, another Education Nation speaker, are scheduled to keynote NSBA’s 2012 Annual Conference.

• Teacher and student accountability, as you might expect, was a recurring theme. Michelle Shearer, the current National Teacher of the Year from Maryland’s Urbana High School, said teachers “want to be evaluated on things that really matter.”

“There are all sorts of different ways of looking at student growth,” she said. “Whatever evaluation looks like in the end, it has to be a system of multiple measures, because often what’s most important are those intangibles … that are tough to put on a check list.”

• At the same session, Khaatim El, a former member of the Atlanta school board, addressed the cheating scandal that has plagued the district he served for almost a decade. “We wanted to be the hype,” he said of the allegations, which are based on the state assessments. “We wanted to be the first to get it right so bad.”

But El noted the district also made huge gains in NAEP scores during that time, an achievement untouched but overshadowed by the scandal. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point to the hard work that many educators put in,” he said. “We focused on the basics. Literacy instruction in elementary school. Autonomy for principals. We invested in professional development. Those things were overshadowed by the cheating scandal. And they were good things for kids.”

The setting for Education Nation was not perfect — the big tent in Rockefeller Plaza is a good idea in theory, but the humidity and poor audio were ever-present distractions. And while this year’s session was far more substantive, future years should stop belaboring the problems and focus instead on how to solve them. Panels featuring districts that have been successful at “what works,” with ideas and content that are easily imitated and replicated, would be a valuable start.

Chances are good that will happen. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) had a strong presence in the planning and execution of the meeting. Anne L. Bryant, our executive director, met with NBC officials about the content and answered audience questions in a video Q&A format prior to the event. Mary Broderick, NSBA’s president, was featured in a panel session with the mayors of Albuquerque, Baltimore, and Newark.

“What we’ve heard from the last two days of this conference is that we need to come together around a sense of urgency,” Broderick said during her session, noting that it takes a shared vision between the school board, the mayor’s office, and the community. “The vision needs to be of excellence. If that cohesive message can be carried through our schools … there’s nothing off the table.”

The education reform hype

Blogger, E.D. Kain, has a great commentary today on his Forbes.com blog stating “there are no silver-bullets in education reform.”

Kain notes:

School reformers create a seductive narrative for the media and lawmakers alike. Foundations are lured to support radical changes because they promise radical results. It’s much more glamorous, after all, to put money into shiny new charter schools than to give those dollars to school districts. School choice and accountability sound good on paper, and films like The Lottery and Waiting for Superman pull on our heartstrings and paint pictures of selfish teachers lobbying hard against their own students. These films ignore not only the external factors leading to school failure – including poverty, lack of funding, and other societal issues – they also gloss over the many failed charter schools and choice programs across the country. Advocates of choice and accountability and the modern charter-school movement brush off the wildly varying results found from one charter school to the next. Like traditional public schools, charter schools with a higher percentage of white and Asian students and lower numbers of ESL students and other disadvantaged students fair much better than those with more mixed populations.

Top-down reformers demonize teachers, shut down ‘failing’ schools, and attempt to implement reforms without the input or buy-in of teachers, parents, and the community. This is why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty are no longer serving in Washington, D.C. It’s why Alan Bersin, who publicly fired school administrators and whose tenure saw the highest turnover of teachers and principals in San Diego history, was eventually removed in San Diego. And it’s why Mayor Bloomberg fights so hard to retain total authority over all education decision-making in New York City. Without support from the rank-and-file, school reform is impossible.

American public education is inherently democratic and decentralized, and no amount of dictatorial reform efforts will change that. It’s also about more than simply teaching kids how to take tests in reading and math. We cannot constantly compare American schools to those in other nations – American culture is different from Asian culture or Northern European culture. The accountability movement has shifted the focus away from American ingenuity and creativity in favor of strict testing regimes in an attempt to compete with Japan and Finland. This is the wrong approach. As our nation grows in wealth and technology, American public education should be a reflection of these changes. American schools may have been founded along industrial lines, but accountability efforts only entrench this attitude. If anything, we should be looking for ways to make education more creative and diverse, and to make American students more well-rounded and independent. The current reforms achieve just the opposite.

Let us know what you think?

Alexis Rice|February 28th, 2011|Categories: Comparative Education, Conferences and Events, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Federal Programs, Mayoral Control, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement, Teachers|

International student assessment shows progress but long road ahead

The 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results were released today and since there was a ton of data to go through BoardBuzz asked our own Center for Public Education to give their take on how U.S. 15-year olds compare to their peers in other countries in reading, math, and science.

Here is what the Center found:

Across each of the three subjects the results were quite positive. In reading the U.S. outperformed the majority of OECD countries. In math and science the U.S. made significant improvements. However, the U.S. needs to maintain or accelerate these gains to catch up the highest performing countries like Korea, Finland, and Canada.

Reading Literacy

  • U.S. 15-year olds compare favorably to their international peers in reading literacy.
    • The U.S. outperformed or performed as well as all but 6 OECD countries in reading literacy. These countries include Korea, Finland and Canada.
    • The U.S. outperformed 13 OECD countries and performed similarly to 14 other OECD countries.
  • The U.S. scored no different in their overall reading literacy score from the average of the 34 OECD participating countries.
    • The U.S. did score above the OECD average in the Reflect and Evaluate subscale.
    • The U.S. scored no different than the OECD average on the other two reading literacy subscales—Access and Retrieve and Integrate and Interpret.
  • Although U.S. students compare favorably to their peers there as been basically no improvement over the past decade.
    • There were no significant differences in reading literacy scores between 2000 and 2009 or between 2003 and 2009.
    • However, more than half the OECD countries that participated in PISA in both 2000 and 2009 saw their scores decline over this time period including high performing countries like Canada (-10), Finland (-10), and Japan (-2).
  • U.S. has a similar percentage of high performing readers.
    • 30 percent of U.S. 15-year olds scored at PISA’s level 4 or above which is similar to the OECD average.
      • PISA states that level 4 is the level at which students are “capable of difficult reading tasks, such as locating embedded information, construing meaning from nuances of language and critically evaluating a text.”
    • Only 7 countries had a higher percentage of high performers
    • 14 countries had a lower percentage and 12 had a similar percentage.
  • No other country has a significantly smaller female-male reading literacy gap than the U.S.
    • In the U.S. females outscore their male counterparts by 25 points while in Canada the gap is 34 points, in Japan it is 39 points, Korea is 35 points, and Finland had the largest gap at 55 points.
  • Results show large disparity among different student groups with the U.S..  
    • White student’s average score was 525 which is similar to the average score in Canada.
    • Black student’s scored just 441 which is similar to the average score in Chile.
    • Hispanic student’s scored just 466 which is similar to the average score in Turkey.

Mathematics Literacy

  • The U.S. has improved its performance significantly.
    • From 2006 to 2009 the U.S. improved its performance by 13 points.
      • Improvement was made by students across all achievement levels, both high, low, and average achieving students.
    • Only 4 countries made greater gains during this time period (Italy, Portugal, Turkey, and Czech Republic).
    • Nearly half of all OECD countries scored lower in 2009 than in 2006.
    • Top performing Japan, Korea, and Canada didn’t have any significant changes in their scores.
  • However, U.S. students do not compare favorably to their international peers on their overall mathematics literacy.
    • The U.S. overall mathematics score was below the OECD average.
    • U.S. 15-year olds were outperformed by 17 of the 33 other OECD countries including Korea, Finland, Japan, Canada, Germany, and France.
      • The U.S did outperform 5 OECD countries
      • Eleven OECD countries performed similarly to the U.S.
  • The U.S. has a lower percentage of high performing students than the average OECD country.
    • In the U.S. 27 percent of students scored at or above PISA’s level 4 compared to the OECD average of 32 percent.
      • PISA defines level 4 as the level at which students can complete higher order tasks such as “solving problems that involve visual and spatial reasoning…in unfamiliar contexts” and “carrying out sequential processes.”
    • Sixteen OECD countries had a higher percentage of students scoring at level 4 or above.
      • Korea had the highest percentage at 52 percent while Canada had 43 percent and Japan had 49 percent.
    • Five OECD countries had a lower percentage and 12 OECD countries had a similar percentage.

Science Literacy

  • The U.S. has improved its performance significantly.
    • From 2006 to 2009 the U.S. improved its performance by 13 points.
      • Improvement was made by average and below average performing students while higher performing students’ scores remained steady.
    • Only 4 countries made greater gains during this time period (Italy, Korea, Portugal, and Turkey).
    • Nearly half of all OECD countries scored lower in 2009 than in 2006 including Canada (-5), Finland (-9), and the United Kingdom (-1).
  • The U.S performance improved from below the OECD average in 2006 to similar to the OECD average in 2009.
    • U.S. 15-year olds were outperformed by 12 of the 33 other OECD countries including Korea, Finland, Japan, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
      • The U.S did outperform 9 OECD countries
      • 12 OECD countries performed similarly to the U.S.
  • The U.S. has a similar percentage of high performing students as the average OECD country.
    • In the U.S. 29 percent of students scored at or above PISA’s level 4 compared to the OECD average of 32 percent.
      • PISA defines level 4 as the level at which students can complete higher order tasks such as “selecting and integrating explanations from different disciplines of science or technology and linking those explanations directly to…life situations.”
    • 13 OECD countries had a higher percentage of students scoring at level 4 or above.
      • Finland had the highest percentage at 50 percent while Canada had 38 percent and Korea had 42 percent.
    • 11 OECD countries had a lower percentage and 9 OECD countries had a similar percentage.

For more information about PISA and other international assessments of student achievement check out the Center’s More than a horse race: A guide to international tests of student achievement.

Jim Hull|December 7th, 2010|Categories: Center for Public Education, Comparative Education, Educational Research, High Schools, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Is fatter better when it comes to textbooks?

It seems that Japan is rethinking their education strategies.

The Associated Press (AP) has an interesting article about how Japan is fattening up their textbooks noting that “Alarmed that its children are falling behind those in rivals such as South Korea and Hong Kong, Japan is adding about 1,200 pages to elementary school textbooks. The textbooks across all subjects for six years of elementary school now total about 4,900 pages, and will go up to nearly 6,100.”

This increase in textbook pages is fascinating as Japan has been embarked in a 10-year experiment in a “‘pressure-free education,’ which encouraged more application of knowledge and less rote memorization.”

The AP continues that “The textbook debate mirrors one in the U.S., where new Common Core State Standards for math and English adopted by 37 states aim to strike a balance between teaching content and how to use that knowledge in everyday life and unify different state requirements. In both countries, sliding scores on tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, given every three years to 15-year-olds around the world, have helped drive changes in educational guidelines.”

Alexis Rice|September 7th, 2010|Categories: Comparative Education, Curriculum, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Education in the spotlight

BoardBuzz is very excited that NBC will be putting education in the spotlight by hosting an Education Nation this fall and hopes it will serve as important dialog for advancing public education.

But why an educational summit? Why now?

The educational statistics NBC presents in promotion of this summit paints a bleak picture on the state of public education.

However is this really the case? 

Jim Hull, of our very own Center for Public Education, has provided a breakdown of why some of the data NBC is using could be misleading.

NBC makes two basic claims that Hull has concern with. One, U.S. students perform poorly in math and science compared to students in other countries. Two, the majority of U.S. 8th graders cannot read at their grade level.

Yes, U.S. 15 year-olds don’t do very well in math and science on the international assessment PISA but U.S. 4th and 8th graders compare quite favorably to their peers in other countries in both math and science on the international assessment TIMSS. In 8th grade math just 5 countries outperformed the U.S. And yes, two thirds of U.S. 8th graders scored below Proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), but proficient on NAEP is not synonymous with ‘reading on-grade level’. NAEP’s proficiency is actually higher than what would be considered ‘on-grade level.’ So in reality much fewer students are not reading at grade level than NBC has publicized. They would have realized this fact if they did their homework and read the Center’s The Proficiency Data: A guide to NAEP achievement levels.

BoardBuzz knows there are too many schools that are not meeting the needs of all their students. But there are many more public schools that are doing an exceptional job preparing their students for life after high school and we need to learn more from these schools so that all schools can meet the needs of their students and communities. BoardBuzz hopes Education Nation is a productive event  that explores what we are doing right and what areas we can improve on to advance public education.

Jim Hull|July 22nd, 2010|Categories: Center for Public Education, Comparative Education, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Do school vouchers lead to segregation?

There has long been a debate over school vouchers in the U.S. , but many other countries have also been experimenting with vouchers. In Chile, vouchers have long been available to provide parents the opportunity to choose their child’s school regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic class, but recent research has shown that such programs may still be promoting segregation.

The National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education has posted research by Gregory Elacqua  on their website reviewing  school choice and segregation between public and private schools in Chile and among different private sectors. His research revealed that even with vouchers, private schools serve a lower proportion of vulnerable and indigenous children than public schools and among private schools, those for-profit were more likely to enroll vulnerable and indigenous students than non-profit private schools.

BoardBuzz finds this research from Chile interesting and hopes future research is done reviewing the effects of voucher programs around the world.  NSBA continues to oppose private school tuition tax credits and vouchers which divert funds from public schools in order to help subsidize the tuition of private and religious school students. For more information against vouchers, visit NSBA‘s Voucher Strategy Center.

Alexis Rice|February 19th, 2010|Categories: Comparative Education, Educational Research, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Privatization, School Vouchers|
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