Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a crowd of 700 teachers from 70 countries in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday that countries must work together to share best education practices.
People need to "resist the idea that international competition in education is somehow a zero sum game in which one nation's advance is another nation's loss," he said. "It is true that global job markets are much more competitive today than even a generation ago. But today's knowledge-based economy compels educators and nations to become both more competitive and more collaborative at the same time."
He gave the speech at Microsoft's Partners in Learning Global Forum, a conference for teachers from around the world to share innovative classroom ideas.
Duncan said that as the world shifts to a more information- and service-based economy, jobs have become "borderless," and if the United States doesn't improve education, it will be at a competitive disadvantage.
"The country that out-educates us will out-compete us," he said.
That's already started to happen in some instances. Many American companies have asked for an increase in the number of skilled foreign nationals they can bring into the country and have outsourced other jobs to countries such as India and China.
Duncan said the country needs to begin thinking like other countries such as Finland and Singapore—countries that lagged behind others several decades ago but have catapulted to the front as they've placed a bigger emphasis on hiring quality teachers and implementing technology in the classroom.
He pointed to the teacher shortage in the United Kingdom during the early part of the 2000s. He said then-Prime Minister Tony Blair put an emphasis on hiring more talented teachers using "generous stipends and signing bonuses … to encourage more prospective teachers to become instructors in understaffed areas like math and physics."
Duncan said the United States needs to raise teachers' starting salaries and "incentivize great teachers and principals" with merit bonuses, and rapidly improve technology in the classroom. South Korea, he said, plans to completely phase out textbooks by 2015. Meanwhile, "the technological revolution has spread everywhere in America," he said. "Everywhere except our schools."
The speech came on the day the Department of Education announced it was handing over control of teach.gov, a website for teachers and prospective teachers that includes a national job board and information about becoming an educator, to Microsoft.
Duncan hopes the corporation will be able to entice more STEM professionals to enter the teaching field.
Microsoft officials say it's too early to say what changes will be made to the website, but that they plan to invite other companies that care about education to participate.
"We're going to take a coalition approach to this," says James Bernard, Microsoft's global director of Partners in Learning.
Duncan said the partnership is an example of how government doesn't need to "continue to grow and expand," but can work with private industry to advance public interests.
Lauren Woodman, Microsoft's general manager of Partners in Learning, says the company will spend the next 90 days sketching out the future of the website, but that the partnership "holds tremendous promise."
"Public-private partnerships are never easy. The government has a certain set of expectations, and we have a different set of expectations," she says. "But in a world where resources in education are increasingly scarce, it's incumbent on all of us to say, 'We're in this together.'"