An article, Why Innovation Can’t Help America’s Classrooms, asks why American schools and workers can’t compete with European schools and workers.  Marc Tucker, the author and the President of the National Center on Education and the Economy, suggests that perhaps the U.S. should be more open to learning from overseas. We need to understand why not only countries like Japan, Finland, and Canada outperform us, but also the developing countries and mega-cities such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

The United States outspends every nation but Luxemburg in education, but a growing number of nations are outperforming the U.S.. In order to compete in the job market, we not only need to improve education but we also need to outperform the countries to justify our higher wages, which we need to maintain our lifestyle.

We should be examining how other countries outperform the U.S. but we have not been learning from them. We still believe in American exceptionalism.

Tucker points out that America has uniquely American solutions: charter schools, private schools, vouchers, entrepreneurial innovations, diminished teacher unions. These solutions have been appealing to many in the U.S. but they are not being used by the countries that we are trying to catch up to. Those countries start off by putting more money into educating the hardest-to-educate students. This is the opposite of what we do in the U.S. The European countries have also developed world-class standards and curriculum and assessment to match their standards. In the U.S. we have just begun to adopt the Common Core Standards, which is a good start but there is still much to be done.

The state of teachers is quite different in much of the world than it is in the U.S. The entry level of teacher education programs is generally higher in European countries. New teachers spend more time teaching with a mentor and have to demonstrate a broader, deeper knowledge of their subject before they get their own classroom. Teaching is an attractive profession and because of that there is no teacher shortage and municipalities are not tempted to waive the high licensing standards when they need teachers. According to Tucker, teaching is a respected profession and teachers generally receive higher salaries in these other countries. All of this ends up, resulting in better educated students who make up a more productive and skilled work force.

In the U.S. teaching is a low-status profession. Our teacher programs have minimal admission standards. Teachers on the average are paid substantially less than other professions that require a degree. Tucker adds that many of the U.S. teachers do not have a solid background in the subjects that they teach, and  the end result of poorly paid, poorly educated teachers is that our student achievement is low and this affects the work force.

But Tucker brings up an example of U.S. business accomplishment. Back in the seventies, Japanese companies were very successful compared to the companies of the U.S. The companies that survived this competition did so by examining the Japanese companies very carefully and then imitating them. In fact they not only imitated them, they utilized American know how and they became better than the Japanese.

The author argues that the best way to improve our school system is to figure out what the top-ranked countries are doing in their classrooms and then use our strength to figure out a way to do it better.

Marc Tucker is concerned that we will feel compelled to rely too much on innovation. He responds: “But our problem is not lack of innovation. Our problem is that we lack what the most successful countries have: coherent, well-designed state systems of education that would allow us to scale up our many pockets of innovation and deliver a high-quality education to all of our students.”

At the end of the article, Tucker recommends that we recognize our strengths, and make sure we don’t ignore what works because it was invented in a different country.

Source:  Atlantic Monthly  Why Innovation Can’t Help America’s Classrooms  


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