It's time for America to start following other countries' leads when it comes to education, according to a new report by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), an organization that researches education systems around the world. The group held a conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C. to release the report, which was attended by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, politicians, and school leaders.
Education achievement in the U.S. has fallen to the middle of the pack among developed nations, according to the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which ranked the knowledge of 15-year-olds in 70 countries. The U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in mathematics.
The new NCEE report, "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform," which studied the overall education systems in Canada, China, Finland, Japan, and Singapore, says that America can solve this educational crisis by looking at it like it looked at manufacturing at the turn of the 20th century.
"We took the best ideas in steelmaking, industrial chemicals and many other fields from England and Germany and others and put them to work here on a scale that Europe could only imagine," the report says. By using the educational strategies of successful nations, NCEE says, the U.S. can catch up.
"The most effective way to greatly improve student performance in the United States is to figure out how the countries with top student performance are doing it, build on their achievements and then, by building on our unique strengths, figure out how to do it even better," Marc Tucker, NCEE's CEO, said in a statement.
The report's recommendation requiring students to pass tests at certain grade levels before continuing their education is likely to be controversial. Hypothetically, students would have to pass a "gateway test" at the end of middle school and again at the end of 10th grade in order to move on to the next grade. NCEE says gateway tests in other countries are well-designed, comprehensive, and standardized throughout the nation. "Because the exams are very high quality, they cannot be 'test prepped;' the only way to succeed on them is to actually master the material," NCEE says.
Other recommendations include the reallocation of money—spending more on paying quality teachers and less on state-of-the-art school facilities, new textbooks, and administrators. The report also recommends that states take more of a responsibility for funding schools, moving away from the majority local-funded system the country uses now.
The report praises the new Common Core State Standards, a state-led initiative launched last year that set guidelines for student achievement in math and English and has been adopted in 42 states. But it also says America needs to go further by expanding the system to the rest of the core curriculum with subjects such as history and science. NCEE also worries that relying on computer-scored exams to provide readings on student achievement, which the Common Core does, is a gamble.
Other countries "are deeply skeptical that computer-scored tests or examinations can adequately measure the acquisition of the skills and knowledge they are most interested in," NCEE says. "If the United States is right about this, we will wind up with a significant advantage over our competitors in the accuracy, timeliness and cost of scoring. If we are wrong, we will significantly hamper our capacity to measure the things we are most interested in measuring."