Wednesday, January 03, 2007

NEA Today's "Can We Compete"

If you haven't already seen it, NEA Today's January cover story is called "Can We Compete?" and it is a wonderful defense of American education. Cindy Long wrote the article, and I think I'm in love! Now, I realize that a pro-education article by a teachers' union publication will probably be about as convincing to our critics as a statement by the Democratic National Committee would be to the Fox News Channel. Nevertheless, this article makes some great points.

We have been hearing a lot about the superior education of young people in China and India campared to kids in the United States, so I was surprised to read that the Chinese Ministry of Education has sent delegations to American classrooms as part of a reform movement to improve their own students ingenuity:

Bradley Jamison stood before a white board crammed with row after dizzying row of calculations. Her AP calculus classmates called out suggestions to help her puzzle through the problem. Once it was solved, teacher Carl Giesy, who has two math degrees and a master’s in education, led the class in a round of applause. The entire time, a delegation of teachers and officials from the Chinese Ministry of Education stood in the back of the room, marveling at the level of interaction between the students and their teacher.

“We think in the U.S. there is greater respect for the students, that they are viewed as people,” says Dinghua Wang, director of China’s Ministry of Education Policy Division for Basic Education. “We also admire how teachers are able to motivate students.”

The article also addresses the near-panic among the opinion-elite in our country about the performance by American students on international test scores:

“Global competitiveness depends on students’ abilities to innovate and invent, not on their test scores,” agrees Yong Zhao, professor and director of the U.S.-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence at Michigan State University. America has long embraced its students’ passion, ingenuity, dreams, and ideas—none of which can be measured by test scores, says Zhao. Asia, on the other hand, has traditionally valued test scores above all else. Even where scores are high and innovative educational approaches are valued, as in Singapore, it’s still felt that testing plays too much of a role.

“Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy,” Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister of Education of Singapore, said in a Newsweek interview. “There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well—like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition....America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America.” But the increased focus on standardized testing here threatens to push American education in the wrong direction, experts warn. “We’re reducing our ability to be competitive with measures like NCLB,” Zhao says. “We’re disadvantaging our students by celebrating points and test scores rather than what really matters.”

In a side article, the relationship of test scores to future performance of the people in a nation is discussed:

In an article due to be published later this year, [Keith Baker, a former U.S. Education Department analyst] looks at how well math scores predict the performance of a nation’s economy. The answer: They don’t. (Gee have you ever heard anyone else suggest that?)

Baker’s analysis begins with the scores of the 12-year-olds from 11 industrialized nations who took part in the First International Math Study (FIMS) in 1964. American students came in second to last, ahead of only Sweden. Baker looked at what happened decades later when those 12-year-olds were running the U.S. economy. America’s economy grew at a rate of 3.3 percent per year from 1992 to 2002. The countries that scored higher than the U.S. grew at a slower rate—2.5 percent—during the same period. All in all, countries that did better in the test competition did worse in the economic competition.

And so the article goes. American education needs to get better, and there isn't anything in the article to suggest otherwise. But those of us in education constantly hear in the media that we are doing such a poor job that we are putting our "nation at risk", so this article is a very pleasant rebuttal to that. I think it's a great article! It even brings up the Life Magazine's "Crisis in Education" cover story in March of 1958. Hey, maybe they've been reading my blog!


Blogger jettybetty said...

Thanks for posting this article--I read through the whole thing--and found it quite interesting! Yes, I have some issues with NEA, but this is a compelling piece.
Are you familiar with "Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered"? That sounds like an interesting read!
The teaching in Louisville fascinates me, too--I like what I read about what teachers there are doing.

1/05/2007 5:16 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi Jettybetty!

I'm not familiar with the publication you mentioned, but I agree with you--it does sound interesting. I know there have been many times when the statistics that are thrown at us don't square with my own experience at all. And when it comes to the NEA, I also think I'm a lot like you. I loved this article, but there are some things they've done and positions they've taken over the years that have left me shaking my head.

1/05/2007 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had the Chinese delegation visit several our schools, too. Our challenge today is our schools, public in particular, as a general rule, do NOT teach our kids to think. The goal of most public schools -- stated in their mission statements - is to produce good citizens. This is measured by getting kids registered to vote. Geez this is pitiful. This is nothing but mediocrity. Where are the future leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, etc. coming from? Yep, you guessed. The high end academic specialty public schools and private schools.

Just my two cents worth. Public education needs major competition. The weak teachers need to be ousted. The strong teachers and administrators (principals) need to be able to run their schools without the top down dictatorships of weak superintendents too scared to let their people be creative and do the things that will produce incredible results in our students.

This testing mentality takes the fun out of learning. It eliminates to ability to have time to be creative, to have dialogue with students so they can think through challenges, talk them out and come to their own conclusion. Nope. As a rule this is not happening in today's average public school.

1/05/2007 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" improve their own students ingenuity." For want of a comma, this phrase made me throw up my hands in despair. It should read: " improve their own students' ingenuity."

Let's hope that the classrooms the Chinese teachers visit feature lessons on how to write English correctly.

1/06/2007 5:51 AM  

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