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Education: Developing a worldwide competitive edge

Date: 
Monday, March 4, 2013

If the United States doesn’t start effectively competing educationally on a global front, it could affect our standard of living, Marc S. Tucker, an internationally recognized education expert, said in Des Moines on March 4.

Don’t see it? Consider:

  • Top-performing education systems are producing more well-educated graduates than in the United States.
  • Those graduates can be hired for a fraction of the cost of their U.S. counterparts.
  • The internet has made hiring employees internationally easy – and necessary for businesses that want to remain competitive in the global market.

“Employers are in a position to choose workers from anywhere in the world,” said Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy. “They are looking for the best deal.”

Tucker, a leader of the standards-based education reform movement, is recognized for his work in benchmarking high-performing international education systems. He spoke to a group of Iowa Department of Education staff members and leaders of education stakeholder groups at the State Historical Building in Des Moines.

Spending on the U.S. education system has more than doubled, but we haven’t seen the desired results, Tucker said. Though the United States has the second-highest cost per student in the world (behind Luxembourg), the country’s students rank 23rd in the world in science, 31st in math and 17th in reading, he said. Compare that to a top-rated education system in Shanghai, where its wages are a quarter of that in the United States.

“Why would a business choose an American?” Tucker asked. “We cost more (to employ) and have lower skills.”

Tucker says that U.S. approaches to education reform over the last 20 years, such as tying teacher pay and retention to standardized test scores, isn’t being duplicated in any of the high-performing countries. As such, we must examine what the world’s top-performers are doing.

Some of the characteristics of top-performing education systems include:

  • Aggressive international benchmarking;
  • Powerful instructional systems, in which curriculum focuses on ensuring development of complex skills, creativity and innovation;
  • Ensuring all students achieve high standards;
  • High-quality teaching force.

The latter point, Tucker said, includes holding teachers to the highest professional standards, on par with physicians. To effect that change, only the very best of students could enter the teaching profession, and rigorous education would ensure mastery of the subjects to be taught, as well as classroom skills. Teacher pay, like other professions, would have to be greatly increased.

In top-performing systems, there is accountability – but quite different from the United States.

“In most top-performing countries, the accountability falls on the students,” Tucker said. “Students in foreign countries are engaged. If they know what they have to do, they will do it.”

In the United States, Tucker said, we expect comparatively little of our students.

“Instead, we put it on the teachers,” he said. “There’s not much a teacher can do if the students aren’t held accountable.”

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on April 16, 2014 at 1:21am.