BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


How Can We Accelerate the Improvement of U.S. Schools?

By Kim Marshall, TIE Columnist

The article: “Rethinking School” by Stacey Childress in Harvard Business Review, March 2012 (90 3, pp. 77-79);
In this Harvard Business Review article, Gates Foundation group leader Stacey Childress puts it bluntly: “The United States must recognize that its long-term growth depends on dramatically increasing the quality of its K-12 education system.”
How bad are things now? Dismal, she says, citing NAEP and PISA data. “Over the past 30 years, nearly every labor-intensive service industry in the U.S. has seen dramatic increases in productivity, while public education has become roughly half as productive—spending twice the money per student to achieve the same results.”
And while we stagnate, other countries are pulling ahead: “In 1990 the U.S. was first in the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees,” she says. “Today it is 10th and dropping.”
Meanwhile, the demand for college-educated people is growing. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in six years 45 percent of jobs will require a college degree. “By 2018,” says Ms. Childress, “if today’s college graduate rates hold as steady as they have for decades, the U.S. will be short at least three million college-educated workers for the projected 101 million jobs that will require a degree.”
What is the key to turning this around? The quality of instruction, says Ms. Childress, citing several studies on the impact of high-quality classroom experiences, especially for disadvantaged students. If African-American and Hispanic students have four consecutive years of highly effective teaching, the achievement gap virtually disappears.
But efforts to improve teaching are moving far too slowly. New York City has made important progress, but at the current rate, it would take 40 years for 80 percent of students to reach proficiency in mathematics and reading. “For the U.S. to remain competitive,” says Ms. Childress, “its students must go further faster.”
Why aren’t schools on a steeper improvement curve? Ms. Childress believes it is because we have been slow to use technology to do things differently. But a few schools have begun to develop hybrid approaches that harness the power of teachers and technology—what each does best—in highly effective ways.
“A new generation of sophisticated adaptive courseware and schools that blend the best of teacher- and computer-delivered instruction are making personalized-learning approaches feasible and affordable,” says Ms. Childress, “not as a replacement for teachers but as a way to give them the tools they need to become dramatically more effective.”
DreamBox Learning is one such program, delivering K-3 mathematics lessons that allow students to work independently and give their teachers a dashboard of diagnostic information on what students are mastering, what they are missing, and why. Reasoning Mind is a similar program for Grades 3-7 students, and Khan Academy has short, free video lessons for students of all ages. Rocketship Education charter schools are using similar approaches with 2,500 students in San Jose, California. And the School of One in New York City assigns each student a unique daily schedule based on academic strengths and needs and is getting impressive results.
Teachers who are working with these programs report that they are freed from whole-group classroom management, have more time for individualized and small-group instruction and critical-thinking projects—and their students are doing far better.
“Such programs offer promise,” Ms. Childress concludes, “but they are just a start… We must give our teachers and students the breakthrough tools they need so that the next generation of Americans will be better prepared to take advantage of those jobs and contribute to a stronger economy.”
Summary reprinted from Marshall Memo 424, 20 February 2012.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


There are currently no comments posted. Please post one via the form above.