A continuation of the TWO MILLION MINUTES documentary film, this blog offers deeper insights into education in China, India and the United States, and the challenge America faces. Now you can join a dialog about what governments, communities and families should and are doing to best prepare US students for satisfying careers in the 21st century.
“The mere formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution.” Einstein
For more than 25 years - from “A Nation At Risk” to “No Child Left Behind” to “Race To The Top” – America has tried with increasing desperation and exasperation to reverse the academic slide of its students.
Among the 30 OECD countries, the U.S. now ranks 15th in literacy, 21st in science and 24th in mathematics. America’s high school graduation rate is 21st among developed countries. Where once the U.S. had the highest percent of college graduates between ages 25 - 35 years old; today we are 12th in the world.
Every President since Jimmy Carter has promised to “fix” our education system and to turn the tide of academic decline. And every President since Ronald Reagan has commissioned a “blue Ribbon panel” to analyze deficiencies in American K-12 education and propose “education reforms.”
One thing is certain – we have spent very heavily on “education reform.” Since 1980, government spending on education has doubled (adjusted for inflation). Foundations have provided tens of billions of dollars in grants, corporations have gifted hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of Americans have given of their time and money trying turn the academic tide.
No country spends more per student on K-12 education.
No country achieves less education per dollar spent.
At some point one wonders if we have formulated the “problem” correctly, because the “solution” has been very expensive and is definitely not working.
Economic Recession Provides Serious Impetus for Change
New York City – September 28,2010 - Documentary film producer Robert A. Compton, was featured on an expert panel discussing global education at the NBC produced Education Nation program. The panel was moderated by Andrea Mitchell.
President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on September 27th kicked off Education Nation with new calls to America’s college graduates to consider a career in education.
Tom Brokaw articulated the hard facts about U.S. student performance: the U.S. now ranks 15th in literacy, 21st in science and 24th in mathematics. America’s high school graduation rate is 21st among developed countries. Where once the U.S. had the highest percent of college graduates between ages 25 - 35 years old; today America is 12th in the world.
The panel on global lessons focused on why so many other countries have surpassed the U.S. in all facets of education. Compton offered a framework for assessing the many sharp differences between American schools and those of its economic competitors.
“I have studied K-12 systems around the world and contrasted their performance with that of American students,” stated Compton, “It is very clear that top performing systems share a few common traits, around what I call the Five C’s of Education Excellence: Culture, Curriculum, Credentials of Teachers, Compensation and Choice.”
Compton continued, “In every top performing system one sees common threads – their culture recognizes and rewards academic achievement; their curricula are set at the very highest levels; teachers are subject matter experts first, holding Masters degrees in the subjects they teach; teacher compensation is not based on seniority, but on market rates; and finally most nations have more school choice than U.S. students.”
“It is both a mockery of American values and a betrayal to our children, that they should have fewer educational choices than children in China or India,” added Compton
NBC News has brought together leaders in politics, business, documentary film and technology to discuss the challenges and opportunities in U.S education today. Education Nation seeks to engage the public, through thoughtful dialogue, in pursuit of the shared goal of providing every American with an opportunity to pursue the best education in the world.
About Robert A. Compton
Compton has been producing documentary films about global education and global entrepreneurship since 2005, after a 25 year career as a new venture investor. He has visited and studied K-12 education in more than 20 countries around the world. Having analyzed how other leading nations are outperforming U.S. students, Compton offers unique insight into what works in other nations and what American education might learn from these world leaders. Visit 2 Million Minutes web site...
Americans woke up today to the news that Congress had re-worded the Pledge of Allegiance. This is only the 5th time in U.S. history that the pledge has been modified.
The Pledge of Allegiance since 1954:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The 21st Century Pledge of Allegiance:
"I pledge allegiance to the government in Washington, DC, and to the special interests for which it stands, one nation, 50% of whom receive government payments, however unbelievable, with liberty and blah,blah, blah...for all."
There is a lot of handwringing and gnashing of teeth in the U.S. right now over so called "high stakes testing." From the impetus of No Child Left Behind under President Bush to the economic incentives of The Race To The Top under President Obama, testing is becoming the flash point in U.S. K-12 education
How did we get here?
Somewhere during the 1960's upheaval of American society, the idea of testing kids became anathema. Schools across the country blindly stopped testing in K-8 and, in many cases, grades were dropped entirely or classes became Pass/Fail with only the Pass being operative.
Despite decades of irrefutable evidence that U.S. education was falling further behind the Global Standards, promoting self-esteem, rather than promoting intellectual rigor and academic proficiency, remained the educational raison d'etre.
Society Gets What It Celebrates
While we have celebrated self-esteem, even when it was not warranted, much of the rest of the world, particularly the booming economies in Asia, have treated testing as a logical way to assess a child's understanding of a core topic.
Today, U.S. students lead the world in only one area - self-confidence. But it is a self-confidence conferred by adults rather than earned by hard work.
Now comes a fascinating article in the New York Times by Elisabeth Rosenthal, a mother who raised her kids in the Chinese system for the first 8 years and then in the U.S. system after that.
What she found was, with the exception of the College Entrance exam, most of the weekly tests in Chinese schools were aimed at assessing a child's knowledge and progress. Read more ...
Having examined many educational systems around the world, it's my view that neither extreme is useful. The idea of a grinding series of tests for Chinese kids is as inimical as the NCLB testing. Tests are a good idea and helpful to children, teachers, parents and administrators if they are:
1- short and frequent enough to measure understanding,
2- computer-based so they can be taken easily and graded quickly - so they become a valuable diagnostic tool,
3- used to motivate kids and their parents to work hard at school, i.e. - there must be consequences for the child and parents, not just for the teacher (as is the case with NCLB)
I think Ms. Rosenthal articulates a very reasonable and accurate view of testing:
"But let’s face it, life is filled with all kinds of tests — some you ace and some you flunk — so at some point you have to get used to it. 'Schools do a lot of nurturing and facilitating, and then it’s a bit of a shock for children when they have to sit at a desk all alone and be tested,' Professor Cizek said."
It's also a shock when kids finish their education, face a competitive world where "testing" is daily reality with high consequences, and where all the self-confidence in the world can't compensate for ignorance.