Friday, December 17, 2010

Shanghai China Schools Number One, U.S. Falls

The public schools of Shanghai, China have scored first place among the industrialized nations of the world in all categories of academic achievement as measured by the 2009 PISA assessment, a test administered every 3 years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The test is given to a sampling of 15 year old students in the subjects of Reading, Math and Science. The United States has shown declines in all areas and now ranks 30th out of the 64 nations tested in Math.

Yes, we should be very much concerned about these results because academic achievement of our students could be indicators of where our country is headed in the worldwide competition for economic progress. Click on this link to view a short video on the educational system in Shanghai as well as other leading countries on this important assessment.

A book I read recently on the tremendous educational potential of all students (discussed in my post dated Dec. 3) convinces me that our country could do much better in educating its future citizens and leaders. We would do well to carefully study the educational systems in China, Finland and neighboring Canada to gain insight as to what educational strategies may improve our system of education. But some of our problems in U.S. education are unique to our society and will require reforms that reach beyond the schools. Amazingly, as you can see in the recent post by Diane Ravitch (see the Dec. 14 post), our education reformers in the U.S. seem to be totally ignoring the main features of truly successful school systems as we rush headlong into a Stalinist-like purge of our educational institutions and practitioners. While other successful countries seem to revere their teachers and value experienced professional educators, our reformers want to install non-educators in administrative positions and remove any consideration of experience and even higher levels of training in determining teacher salaries and layoff procedures.

Yes, there is something seriously wrong with education in the U.S. and in Louisiana, but its not caused by lazy, incompetent teachers. Some of our teachers certainly are burning out because of the overwhelming challenges they face, but that's a symptom not a cause. Our teachers need support from education leaders and especially from parents to engage and motivate our students to achieve their potential in school, not mindless reprisals against teachers and principals.

Lets face it, many of our students don't know and don't seem to care why they are in school. These kids don't have a single book of any kind in their homes, they spend countless hours watching TV and playing video games, or hanging out with friends til all hours of the night. Teachers in some schools are reluctant to assign homework that requires the use of the student's textbook because so many students lose their book when they take it off campus. These kids don't have a quiet place to study, they are often kept awake till late at night by loud music, and no one sees to it that they get to school on time. Often when the school secretary calls home to check on an absent student, no one knows where he/she is. Compare that to the video you can watch on the educational climate in Shanghai or Finland. Now tell me honestly, are we going to fix this problem by firing the bottom 5% of teachers based on student test scores? There seems to be no relation between the fixes that are proposed by reformers like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan and the reality on the ground.

Note: My interview with Jonathan Plucker, an educational psychologist from the University of Indiana who recently visited the schools in Shanghai has been delayed because of a minor illness. I hope to conduct the interview early next week. Please check back for some enlightening insights on how the educational climate differs in the U.S. compared to China.

Happy Holidays!

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