Half a century ago, the United States workforce was widely recognized as the best educated in the industrialized world. Today, studies show, it is found to be among the least.
As bachelors in education students across the U.S. study and train to fill the gaps and work to resurrect the quality of education in our country, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is also determined to answer the question: How do we make our education system truly better?
In search of an answer, a bipartisan group of over two-dozen state lawmakers and legislative staffers recently embarked on an 18-month journey to study some of the world’s top-performing school systems, including Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Ontario, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore and Taiwan.
Last month the group released a report of their final analysis called No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State, and just as the title says, they waste no time getting to the heart of the matter.
“The bad news is most state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world in a number of international comparisons and on our own National Assessment of Educational Progress, leaving the United States overwhelmingly underprepared to succeed in the 21st century economy,” the report states.
“Pockets of improvement in a few districts or states is not enough to retain our country’s global competitiveness.”
A few of the key takeaways include:
- Early education is essential. We discussed this concept in a recent blog, along with the fact that up to 54 percent of U.S. children were not attending preschool in recent years. The NCSL report shows that a common factor in top-performing school systems is the great investment they make in early education. Ontario schools, for example, offer free, full-day kindergarten to both four and five year olds.
- Teacher training and peer collaboration. In these top-performing countries teachers work together, counseling and training one another, constantly observing, evaluating and improving their practices. According to the report, a large percentage of teachers’ time in these countries is spent working in teams with other teachers to develop and improve lessons as well as observing and critiquing one another’s classes. This team teaching model, as well as the practice of observation for the purpose of improvement is instilled in bachelors of education students early on in the William Woods student teaching program, and will be a practice they can carry with them into their career.
- Place the right teachers in the right schools. The report goes on to say that beyond simply preparing our future teachers and continuing to foster growth in current teachers, we must place the most prepared and most qualified of those in the schools that need them most.
“Once students in top-performing countries are in school, those who struggle receive extra help… More teachers are typically allocated to such schools, with the best teachers serving in the most challenged ones,” the report explains. “Inversely, American students from the wealthiest communities are most likely to get the best teachers and the finest facilities.”