Education solutions from abroad for chronic U.S. school problems
From teach-to-test straitjacket to school disparity, chronic school problems that American schools face are being solved in different ways around the world.
(Page 2 of 3)
There is one metric in which the US consistently excels, show studies by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an international consortium of 400 researchers: entrepreneurship. Scholars have noticed an inverse correlation between GEM rankings and PISA scores. This has worried some Singaporeans, for example, who fear that rote memorization and intensely focused studies might account for their nation's high PISA scores but bode ill for innovation-driven growth.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A company like Apple would not emerge in a structured country like Singapore, the company's cofounder Steve Wozniak told the BBC in 2011, because that would require a society with great artists, musicians, and writers. "Where are the creative people?" he asked.
This is a question Singapore's leaders had already picked up on when they made the arts a cornerstone of the city-state's effort to boost creativity and innovation. Already, Singapore is pointing to correlations some researchers have documented between arts study and academic success, even as tighter budgets and teaching to standardized tests have forced US schools to cut arts curriculum.
"We're the only country in the world that tests every child every year," says Linda Darling-Hammond, founder of the Stanford (University) Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the School Redesign Network. "We attached high stakes [to these tests] so people thought they could only pay attention to that," to the detriment of science, social studies, art, music, or physical education.
Essays show more than multiple choice
Province-wide school systems in Australia offer compelling models as the US develops a new set of tests tied to the Common Core State Standards that all but five states are adopting. In New South Wales and Victoria, teachers use a variety of means to assess their students' knowledge and abilities, but externally administered tests only take place in Grades 3, 5, 7, and 9 with a comprehensive state exam in Grade 12.
Their high-stakes exams use few multiple-choice questions and rely primarily on essays. Teachers equip students with facts and formulas, yes, but they have to also teach them to analyze, extrapolate, and communicate. It's the difference between drilling them to pencil-in the bubble indicating Plato was the author of "Republic" and engendering the skills needed to explain why and how his writings were influential.
Similarly, a strategy that Ontario initiated in 2004 stresses literacy and numeracy not in isolation, but within the context of a broad range of subjects. Students aren't just drilled on grammar or formulas. Teachers also stress writing, critical thinking, and mathematics in science, history, and social science – even in dance, as in a summer program in Toronto designed to combat the summer learning loss that disproportionately affects children of low-income families.
Ms. Darling-Hammond hopes the Common Core will bring back a broader perspective. The Common Core, which sets out what students are expected to learn, has stirred controversy, but many critics and supporters agree that its success depends on an effective infrastructure: essay-based tests developed with teacher input, high-quality curricula and textbooks – and time.