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Notes From the Fieldby Martin Weil

January 8, 2014

“An absolute wake-up call” for US education

According to the recent PISA study of educational accomplishment, 10th grade students in China are 2 1/2 years ahead of their American counterparts. Two and a half years, for chrissakes! This and other shortcomings of our K-12 system are explored on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS segment entitled “An absolute wake-up call for America.”

Fareed’s panel included the Superintendent of the NY City schools system, the founder of Teach for America, and Sal Khan of the Khan Academy.  A few of the major differences they noted between school systems that are at the top of the list (Germany and Finland along with China) and ours. The top-performers:

  • Place high societal respect and provide competitive compensation for the teaching profession
  • Furnish ample resources for teacher training
  • Are open to adopting the best practices from other countries
  • Foster active parental involvement
  • Have no school-based sports programming, spending the time instead on academics.

These “best practices” would be great enhancements to the US system, difficult but not impossible to achieve over a generation (though the elimination of school sports would most likely be dead on arrival as a suggestion).

But to me the most telling and readily actionable difference the panel discussed was that students in China attend school an average 50 days a year longer than their American counterparts. Over ten years, that is 500 days, or curiously enough about 2 1/2 years. Our kids just don’t spend enough time in class and a simple fix thus might be to start gradually extending the K-12 school year.

We continue to work off an educational calendar based on the needs of our agricultural economy during the 19th century. Overhaul is way past overdue and our failure to invest in and to modernize K-12 educational delivery to meet the needs of the 21st century is jeopardizing our children’s economic futures.

 

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