For the last several years there is a large annual gathering of the leader representing the education system of countries around the world. This summit is known as the International Summit of Teaching and is a joint effort between three groups:
the U.S. Department of Education, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Education International (EI). This year participants at the Summit focused on the issue of improving teacher preparation and the development of school leaders to better address the world’s future education needs. Surrounding that topic was a wealth of statistical data and testimony from around the world. Included in this was significant insight into the current state of U.S. education.
Signs of Trouble
From that summit a report was released showing the U.S. to be ranked “average” among the 34 participating nations. By the scoring metrics on a scale of 1,000 U.S. scored 502 in science (17th out of 34), 500 in reading (14th out of 34) and 487 in math (25th out of 34). As the world’s super power and role model these numbers are a distressing indicator. Our rankings do not reflect our decades of effort towards education reform.
It’s Not the Money
A common propped solution is to increase the amount of spending on education. It should be noted that last year the U.S. spent over $800 billion on education, more than five times more than the second highest spender (Japan). Canada spent $65 billion, just 8% of U.S.’s education budget. The U.S. has also fewer college graduates relative to other leading nations. We fell from second place in 1995 to 13th place in 2008. Looking at the contrast between our mediocre scores and our incomparably high spending, it appears obvious that in this country we have a largely inefficient system, and this issue cannot be solved by money alone.
Another issue to come up at the summit is that despite America’s high spending, relatively little of it goes to the teachers themselves. The majority of teachers in the U.S. go into debt in order start their careers, and on average only earn 60% of the average income of college graduates employed in other fields. Additionally, teachers who end up working in poorer communities typically make less than teachers in more affluent areas while also having to pay for many of their own supplies. Evidence was also given that America was more willing to lower standards than to raise salaries, and many teachers have little opportunities to collaborate with one another, making sense of the fact that a third of U.S beginner teachers leave within their first five years of work.
This is to be contrasted by countries such as Finland, Norway, and Singapore where the situation is radically different. In those countries teaching ranks among the highest paying careers, in some cases matching that of doctors. Teachers also work in collaborative teams.
The Way Out
The overall atmosphere at the International Summit of Teaching was very positive as nations from around the world committed to make reforms needed to empower future generations. Owning up to the situation may be tough, but the good news is that it isn’t too late for a turnaround. If it can be agreed that we are facing a problem in our education system then I see at least two solutions. One is to observe and emulate the educational systems in other developed countries, places where spending is exponentially lower and results are dramatically better. The other solution is to champion the new emerging forms of learning, such as the MMOCs mentioned in our earlier articles.