Every year, hundreds of reforms in education are implemented across the country. These include curriculum pedagogy and governance, technology, as well as other areas. Many fail to make the significant improvements in student achievement their advocates desired. In fact, the overall U.S. education performance has been flat for twenty years.
We now know that educational improvements in other countries are much faster than ours, and we can learn from their experiences. It is amazing to see their success in improving hundreds upon schools. What is it that has allowed them to become high-performing global leaders? Are there lessons to be learned for American schools?
1. Long-Term Vision
Leaders of high-performing countries have a common conviction that education is central to their visions for society. They believe education is essential in achieving their goals of a better society, greater equality, a functioning multi-cultural society, and creating a thriving economy with good jobs. Each system has a long-term vision of how education can achieve these goals. This vision is shared widely within and outside the education system. For example, Singapore's vision enabled them to move their economy from the third to the first world. China's 2020 vision, which was created with online input from millions and includes universal high-school graduation and top-ranked universities. Alberta invited all citizens to participate in a dialogue about what the educated Albertans of 2030 should look. Finland's vision was to create a modern society with a free economy and society, without the interference of larger powers.
2. Sustainable Leadership
A single leader may lead major reforms, whether they are triggered by an economic or social crisis. Although these reforms can result in significant improvements within three to five years, substantial changes in performance and closing achievement gaps require a longer period than most political cycles. High leadership turnover is a major barrier to sustained change.
Understanding this, the premier of Ontario regularly brought together all the key stakeholders--teachers, parents, business, students--to get buy in, iron out problems as they arose, and maintain sustained support for Ontario's reforms over a period of many years.
The United States could also bring together key stakeholders from states and districts to create a vision of what an educated American should look in 2030. This vision could be accelerated through political cycles, leadership turnover, and other means.
3. Ambitious Standards
The countries that do well set high standards have a tendency to be universally ambitious and provide clear guidelines for their students at all levels, whether they are at the state/provincial or national level. Locally set standards can lead to drastically different expectations of performance, and lower overall achievement.
Countries that historically established standards at the state or local level are now more likely to work together to create common standards for all jurisdictions. For the first time, Australia's states have come together to create a national curriculum. Canada's Alberta has standards that are established at the provincial level. The province-wide curricula, examination systems, and curriculums ensure that everyone in rural and urban areas can pursue these standards. The Common Core State Standards in the United States follow international best practice by establishing fewer, more clearer and higher standards in certain areas. However, high-performing systems have standard in all subjects to avoid narrowing down the curriculum.
4. While leaders in all countries proclaim their commitment towards equity, successful education systems are focused on achieving it in a strong and deliberate manner.
The large number of students who score at or below the basic level is partly responsible for our poor performance in international assessments.
High-performing schools use a variety to reduce the impact of social background on student success. These policies include system-wide policies such as equitable funding, high expectations for all students and high-quality teachers at every school. These include classroom-level interventions such as targeted early literacy and math support, and a variety family and community supports.
Although these policies do not eliminate the disparity between children of parents with different education levels, they significantly level the playing fields to encourage talent from all walks of society.
5. High-Quality School Leaders and Teachers
Leadership, vision, high standards and a commitment to equity are all crucial starting points. However, they won't make a significant impact on teaching and learning in the classroom.
High-performing and improving countries all agree that the quality education system is determined by the quality of its teachers, regardless of the reform strategy. These countries adopt policies that attract, train, support, reward and retain high-quality teachers.
Schools will need more leadership as systems become more decentralized. Schools that are focused on the results can create the conditions for effective learning and teaching. There are many systems, including those in Australia, Ontario, Singapore, and Singapore that have created new processes and frameworks for school leaders training.
High-performing systems tend to put their energy in the front of recruiting and supporting teachers with high-quality skills, rather than the backend of firing and reducing attrition.
6. The implementation gaps between policies at the state, national or district levels and what actually happens in classrooms are large for lower performing systems.
There are often inconsistencies between the policy goals for higher-order skills and lower-level tests used to assess them. Or between the school goals and the conflicting orientations of the higher education system that produces teacher.