The price of pretending we don’t know what works

While the recent PISA results showing U.S. students to be average in comparison to their international peers may be a blow to American national pride, the fact is given how poorly we treat our teaching force and many of our students, it’s amazing the results aren’t worse. The really good news is that doing better is fully within our power and resources.

The PISA standings shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise; America was running in the middle of the pack at the 2003 release of those same tests, behind countries such as Finland, South Korea, and Canada.

Over the last 30 years, other countries have studied the U.S. educational system, or more correctly, they have studied what our best practices and research say would maximize student learning. Unlike us, they have been willing to move national policy and resources in line with that knowledge. For example, many other countries have taken seriously the importance of sustaining teacher quality by making better use of the expertise of their veteran teachers, allowing them to spend significant portions of their work time mentoring newer teachers or developing curriculum materials. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. archaic systems stifle teacher creativity, ignore market realities, and isolate teaching expertise” (Teaching 2030, p.105).

Following research-based best practices, many of our competitors have invested heavily in rigorous systems to prepare and keep high quality teachers. Even a tiny country like Singapore “has one of the most sophisticated systems of teacher development in the world. Teachers are highly recruited, well-prepared, and well paid” (Teaching 2030, p. 125). Conversely, across the U.S., states and districts have lowered standards for those entering teaching while providing little or no support during their first years in the classroom. Since it is primarily these poorer prepared recruits who end up working in the most challenging schools, the persistently high teacher turnover and low student performance rates can be guaranteed.

We can do better, in part by taking back our own ideas and putting them to work for America’s children.

Cross-posted under responses at National Journal