McGraw-Hill and PISA Leaders Offer 'Best Practices' Used by Countries with the Highest Performing Educational Systems

Position Paper Addresses Key Issues on U.S. Education Secretary's Agenda for International Summit; Provides Recommendations to Re-Establish U.S. as a World Leader in Education

Mar 16, 2011, 09:06 ET from McGraw-Hill Research Foundation

NEW YORK, March 16, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- What can be learned from other countries to develop a more effective educational system for one's own country? That critical question will be addressed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he hosts the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession on March 16 and 17 in New York along with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Education International, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and education officials from the United States and 25 leading countries. A new position paper released today by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation addresses that question head-on, presenting some of the best educational practices from countries around the world.

"What the U.S. Can Learn from the World's Most Successful Education Reform Efforts" is the title of the paper. It is co-authored by Summit guest speaker Andreas Schleicher, the director of OECD and Program for International Students Assessment (PISA), and Summit attendee Dr. Steven Paine, vice president of strategic planning and business development at CTB/McGraw-Hill and former state superintendent of schools in West Virginia. As West Virginia's superintendent, Paine revamped the state's curriculum to bring it closer to the standards demanded by PISA and the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.

For the U.S. to remain economically competitive, Schleicher and Paine contend that it will need to raise the status of the teaching profession and maintain a common set of standards to match those of countries that have the most effective educational systems in the world. Optimistic that the U.S. can improve its performance, Paine notes, "The U.S. has the resources and the talent to compete more effectively and raise its level of educational achievement." However, he points out, change is only possible if the U.S. "demonstrates with its actions that it truly values education, displays an understanding of the vital importance of having an educated workforce that can compete globally, and develops the political will to devote the necessary resources for educational reform."

The benefits to improving U.S. education achievement could be quite significant, says Schleicher, referencing a recent study by the OECD and Hoover Institute at Stanford University. "If the U.S. could boost its average PISA scores by 25 points over the next 20 years, it could lead to a gain of $41 trillion for the U.S. economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010."

In analyzing PISA results, the authors cite several factors in U.S. education that may have contributed to the nation's mediocre PISA scores over the last decade. Among them:

  • The low status American society places on the teaching profession. High-scoring countries like Finland, which regularly tops global comparisons of national performance, afford teachers a status comparable to doctors, lawyers and other highly regarded professionals. Finnish teachers are not highly paid but they enjoy tremendous respect. Similarly, Singapore ranks the profession of teaching as one of the most esteemed, with only the top one-third of the secondary school graduating class eligible to become teachers.
  • High standards across the board. Most of the high performing countries have developed world-class academic standards for their students and base their model on the premise that it is possible – and necessary – for all students to achieve at high levels.
  • Less money per student in economically disadvantaged schools.  The U.S. spends less money per student in its economically disadvantaged schools. In about half of OECD countries, the assumption is that disadvantaged children should have more and better teachers.
  • Socio-economic background plays a role in the U.S. but shouldn't be deterministic. Seventeen percent of the variation in U.S. student performance on the 2009 PISA assessments can be explained by a student's socio-economic background, a far higher percentage than the OECD average. In Canada or Japan, for example, only 9 percent of a student's score is influenced by socio-economic differences.

The policy paper offers some key recommendations for U.S. schools -- taken from countries with high performing educational systems:

  1. raise the status of the teaching profession, with higher standards for teacher education, more practical classroom experience for those still in school and more professional development for those on the job;
  2. consistently implement common core standards;
  3. establish ongoing, summative assessment and intervention that adequately provides educators with real-time data to inform and tailor instruction;
  4. develop leaders at the local and school level; and
  5. invest resources that allow school heads and school faculty to have greater local ownership of performance and practice new ideas and learn from their colleagues.

The most important lesson to be learned from high-achieving PISA nations, according to Schleicher and Paine, is in the investment, preparation, and development of high quality teachers. The U.S. must begin taking steps to elevate the status of the entire profession, while equipping all U.S. teachers for effective learning in the 21st century. This requires rethinking current methods being used in the U.S. "The U.S. must restore the teaching profession to the level of respect and dignity it enjoyed only a few decades ago," Schleicher writes. "It is also incumbent upon political leaders, our state and federal education officials, parents and everyone with a stake in the education of young people in the U.S. to support their teachers."

Revising West Virginia's state curriculum to bring it closer to PISA standards and the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress tests was no easy task, Paine noted. "It was a challenge to convince so many stakeholders in West Virginia that it was in our best interest to raise standards and suffer a short-term drop in scores to achieve a long-term benefit.  However, in my view, if we're going to spend the effort and money to raise standards, we might as well shoot for the top and ready our young people to compete in the 21st century – with the best educated workers from all around the globe."

About the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation

The Foundation was established with the support of The McGraw-Hill Companies. It was incorporated on July 16, 2010, as a Delaware non-profit and is in the process of applying to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization.


Tom Stanton

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SOURCE McGraw-Hill Research Foundation