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Education Expert Discusses U.S. School System
March 29, 2012
Marc Tucker outlines how America can learn from the world’s most successful education systems.
More rigorous entrance standards for teaching schools, higher salaries for teachers and a strong core curriculum are just some of the ways other countries’ education systems are surpassing the U.S., said Marc Tucker, president and chief executive officer of the National Center on Education and the Economy during an address at the George Washington University Tuesday.
While speaking to students at GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Mr. Tucker described the disconnect between how much the U.S. spends to educate its students and its overall student achievement.
The U.S. spends more per capita to educate children in elementary and secondary schools than almost any other country, but when it comes to scores on international assessments, U.S. children rank in the middle of the pack.
“So whether you look at student achievement, equity or system efficiency, we are in very bad shape, and one county after another is surpassing us,” said Mr. Tucker, who recently authored the book “Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems.”
GSEHD Dean Michael Feuer, who introduced Mr. Tucker, said that while international comparisons play a major role in education research, the U.S. fails to model much of what the top-performing countries do.
“If someone has figured out how to beat us, don’t you think it would make a lot of sense to figure out how they’re doing it and figure out how to do it better?” asked Mr. Tucker.
Top-performing countries like South Korea, Japan and Finland focus their education systems on fostering complex skills, creativity and innovative capacity. Instead of computer-based multiple choice assessments, they give curriculum-based exams. The very best teachers teach the students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and they get more money to do so.
While the main education policy in the U.S. is the No Child Left Behind law, Mr. Tucker argues it’s just a slogan. But in top performing countries, it’s a design criteria.
“They ask themselves if we want to get our students to high standards, then what do we have to do to get there? And then they lay it out like an engineer would,” said Mr. Tucker.
This ineffective system in the U.S. is one of two main reasons why American performance is sinking so fast, said Mr. Tucker. The other is teacher recruitment and training.
In top-performing countries, the standards for getting accepted into teaching school are as competitive as those required for entry into medical or engineering school. Beginning teachers are often required to complete a year-long apprenticeship and are assigned to study under a master teacher. Teacher salaries are on par with engineer salaries
“When you visit these countries that are high performing, you see effective systems of education,” said Mr. Tucker. “But in the U.S., we don’t have a strong system because it’s no one’s responsibility to ensure we have one.”
Two GSEHD professors, Laura Engel, assistant professor of international education and international affairs, and Colin Green, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, gave brief reflections after Mr. Tucker’s address. Dr. Engel stressed that education should be viewed as a civic good as well as an economic good, while Dr. Green said the U.S. government must make funding high-quality teacher preparation a national priority if it wants the U.S. to compete on a global scale.
“There’s a lack of trust in teacher education programs and the teaching profession here in the U.S. compared to other countries,” said Dr. Green.
Mr. Tucker finished his address by issuing a challenge to GW: work with other D.C. higher education institutions and the District of Columbia Public Schools to fix the education system in the District.
“You can get a group of people together and fix this,” he said. “Do what needs to be done about teacher salaries, teacher training entry standards, curriculum and licensing standards.”