By Julie Lays
What can we learn from Singapore, Finland and Poland?
A great deal, members of the NCSL international study group on education reform told hundreds of attendees during a jam-packed session at the Legislative Summit in Chicago on Tuesday. Their findings are contained in the report, “No Time to Lose: How to Build a World-Class Education System State by State,” released during the session. The report is the culmination of two years studying several of the 30 high-performing countries whose students outperform U.S. students on the international PISA assessment.
The report warns that “state education systems are falling dangerously behind the world in a number of international comparisons. … The U.S. workforce, widely acknowledged to be the best educated in the world half a century ago, is now among the least educated in the world.” Unlike in many of the countries studied, U.S. student achievement is stagnant, achievement gaps are widening, and teachers are often unsupported and paid less than others in comparable careers.
Study group members came to believe it is essential to make some comprehensive changes now in our states’ education systems to maintain our global competitiveness in the near future. The bipartisan group found these common characteristics in high performing countries.
- Children come to school ready to learn, and resources are targeted at those who need them the most.
- Highly effective teachers come from the top tier of students and are adequately paid and extensively trained and supported.
- The curriculum is demanding and comprehensive and contains high expectations for all students, not just those who are college bound.
- Reform efforts are comprehensive, long-term and not affected by a change of political leadership.
“We are not that different from these countries,” Arkansas Senator Joyce Elliott (D), a study group member, told the crowd. “We don’t have to settle for what we have.”
In addition to the report, you can read more about the study group’s findings, as well as its recommendations, in the upcoming September issue of State Legislatures magazine.
Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.