Monday, May 23, 2016

How China Really Laughs at America

As U.S. test scores (on globalized standard tests) from our 50 million public primary and secondary students, representing over 13,500 separate public school districts, fall, as public school (and public college/university) budgets either continue to be cut or fail to increase to keep up with new enrollees, lots of other public school systems outside the United States are going the other way. As each U.S. state and school district spends money to administer these massive bureaucracies, many still engaging in debates concerning the need to teach creationism vs. evolution, too many countries have simply prioritized teaching hard facts and necessary skills to their own children, with concomitant increases in their own test scores.
We know about stunning results in Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, etc., etc. But China is upgrading its schools, city-by-city, and where these new curricula are implemented, the results simply blow American test scores out of the water.  Shanghai, one of the People’s Republic’s largest cities (23 million residents), outshines the rest. It’s secret: a very special focus on the teachers themselves.
“Pupils in the Chinese city have been ranked in top place in international school tests, and the World Bank, which provides financial and technical assistance to developing countries, has published a report investigating Shanghai's academic success.
“It found the standard of teaching was the biggest advantage, including a system of constant teacher training and upgrading of skills… Teachers in Shanghai, on average, spend only a third of their time teaching - with most of their time being spent on training, preparation and working with mentors.
“There are ‘stringent’ requirements to get into teaching, which is seen as a prestigious job, and even though teachers can be dismissed, the study found that, in practice, this was rare… Instead, there was a system with a very strong emphasis on training and a career built on incentives for the best teachers.
“Teachers can receive as much as 30% of their pay in merit payments, decided at school level, on top of a basic salary… Head teachers are expected to carry on teaching and part of their pay is linked to their school's performance… There are incentives for teachers and head teachers to work in tougher underperforming and rural schools - such as helping their careers to advance more quickly… And there can be rotations of teachers working in the most disadvantaged schools…
“The most recent tests, run by the OECD, have put Shanghai in top place for maths, reading and science in a global league table of countries and regional school systems.
“Report author Xiaoyan Liang said: ‘One of the most impressive aspects of Shanghai's education system is the way it grooms, supports, and manages teachers, who are central to any effort to raise the education quality in schools.’… She said the high level of public respect for teachers in Shanghai was another reflection of ‘how well they teach. They are true professionals.’ ”, May 18th 
There’s a popular American slogan, “those who can do, those who can’t teach” that infuriates me. Our public school mandate of teaching to the test, simply to make test scores look good without genuine concern for the children’s competency, is unsustainable. We can and must be better than that. We need to respect teachers, hold them in the highest esteem… which we don’t today. And somehow, the weight of too many school districts is not a “states’ rights/local” benefit anymore, it is an anchor around the neck of our ability to rise and achieve. It was easy to run this way when the rest of the world was struggling to revive following WWII, but in a modern world and given rising global educational practices, this wasteful system is neither efficient nor generating the necessary results.
While US teachers are “true professionals” as well, the above Shanghai system doesn’t sound like any American school district I know. On the American side, there is generally no internal systematic continuous training mechanism within any of our school districts. Upgrades here range from occasional teacher “conferences” to advanced degrees and certifications, often at the teacher’s expense, at local colleges and universities. Most of our teachers are dealing with crowded classrooms, generating massive out-of-classroom assignment preparation, paper review and test scoring. Upgrades occur mostly on the teacher’s off hours and not within the school district proper.
Shanghai standards are becoming the model for other Chinese cities and towns. The product of these enhanced educational processes are precisely the minds that American students are going to face in the head-to-head global competition market they must enter. Trade agreements, tariffs and economic sanctions are not enough to protect our young people from better-educated, better-skilled workers able to create, design and work for wages that remain lower than anywhere in the Western world. We need to be better, stronger and more educated than anyone else. The American “dream” is just that… without hard work and investment in our own future: education, infrastructure and research… it is merely a “dream” to return to a bygone era.
 I’m Peter Dekom, and we need to heed to wake-up call and not simply hit the expedient and distracting snooze button!

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