Lessons from most successful schools abroad
Education trends from other nations are gaining cachet as political and educational leaders strive to bring American schools in line with the demands of the 21st-century global economy.
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When it comes to improving education, "there's a globalism in the perspective of ... the high-achieving countries, [and] they're all talking about each other," says Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University in California. "It's an important change that there's some interest in that now" in the US, she says.Skip to next paragraph
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And one focus is teaching, since high-quality teachers are important in improving student achievement.
The US should recruit, prepare, and support teachers in ways that "reflect the ... practices of top-performing nations and states around the world," urged a report released in December by an advisory group convened by the National Governors Association and several education organizations.
President Obama raised a similar idea in his recent speech on education: "The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens," he said. "[D]espite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us.... [That decline is] unsustainable for our democracy."
Yet observers caution that some attempts to compare US and international education can be too simplistic. "We can learn from other countries, but we do have to be careful with whether or not the practices of any one country can be imported into another," says Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a policy research group in Washington. "Many of these practices are so culturally bound that the fact that something works in Singapore doesn't necessarily mean it will work in the United States."
It's also worth noting that even in countries scoring higher than the US on certain tests, educators have their share of complaints and worries about the future. Moreover, it's not as if the lessons flow just one way: US schools and colleges regularly host foreign visitors interested in innovations they've tried.
The preparation to be a teacher
If Riina Haverinen were in the US, she'd probably be about to start a teaching job. She's nearly finished with her fourth year at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, but she'll need two more to earn her master's degree in German, English, and teaching, she estimates. (Many Finnish students need just five years, depending on what they want to teach.)
In contrast to most beginning American teachers, she'll have a deep grasp of the subjects she'll be teaching, as well as the ability to conduct graduate-level research that can improve her work.
The university's lakeside campus, with sleek buildings designed by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, is a major center for teacher education. University education is free in Finland, and students receive living stipends based on income.