A European Look at American Education Reform

Friday, April 26, 2013 -- Ashlee Tatum-Eckley

Even in today's (sometimes eerily) interconnected world, companies and countries alike can tend to operate in an echo chamber. They hear themselves, they hear the same arguments, and they often come to the same conclusions. And so, different voices can provide different perspectives that can stimulate more creative and better thinking, and more productive discussions.

A recent article in the London-based The Economist titled Value-added remodeling declares that “America's schools are getting their biggest overhaul in living memory.” As with many reform movements, The Economist recognizes that much of the heavy lifting is being done at the state, rather than national, level. It points out that 17 states offer vouchers for use in private schools or give tax breaks to donors to scholarship funds; that 38 states are experimenting with new pay structures (often performance related) for teachers or administrators; and that 37 have applied for Race to the Top-like grants. In addition, it notes that all states but eight allow charter schools. Its conclusion: “From nurseries to technical colleges, America is subjecting its schools to a vigorous shake-up.”

At the same time, the article states that “it is far too early to tell whether all the tumult in education policy will lift America up in the international rankings.” And yet, while America has never been rated especially high by the most widely cited international evaluation consortia, “by and large its scores are  improving,” but yet, the improvements are small.

The article makes frequent references to reform efforts in Delaware, specifically citing Sussex Tech high school. And whether in Delaware or Chicago, The Economist notes the seeming dichotomy between what schools are preparing students for, and what skills businesses really need. For example, a McKinsey study that finds 87% of educational institutions thought they had prepared their students well for employment, while only 49% of employers thought their new employees had the training they needed.

It is worth noting that the article in question was part of a special report in the magazine titled America's Competitiveness. In fact, the cover referred to The America that works; A special report on the competitive surge that even Washington can't stop. It is worth noting that, because we all recognize the importance of education in preparing students for a global 21st century world. And there is a unique entrepreneurial spirit in America that can be fostered in our schools.

But as John Demby, the principal of Sussex Tech in Delaware says, “As schools, we have to create a smarter product to be competitive.”

In what ways do you emphasize global competitiveness in your schools and your teaching? How do you know if your students are being effectively prepared for 21st century careers?