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Why Are We Not Learning From Other Countries’ Educational Successes?

Are not two of the most important points of education to (1) gain an understanding of how much we do not know and then (2) to seek to learn from those that do? Attending the Grad Nation Summit was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Yet, it left me wondering, why is America not taking out the time to seriously learn from what other countries are doing to accomplish outstanding results within their education systems. I found myself constantly analyzing what educational policies work abroad with great success that could be replicated here in the United States.
According to the Bloomberg article, “U.S. Teens Lag as China Soars on International Test,” fifteen-year-olds throughout the United States “ranked 25th among peers from 34 countries on a math test and scored in the middle in science and reading, while China’s Shanghai topped the charts, raising the concern that the U.S. isn’t prepared to succeed in the global economy.” In addition, according to the Huffington Post, the United States is currently rated “average” in global educational rankings. However, according the popular documentary on the state of education in America, although America is not ranked even in the top ten for most educational rankings, and in some cases the top twenty, we do rank high in one category: Optimism. According to one study, American teens ranked #1 in their level of optimism and in their forecasting for future salaries. Meaning, for little work and educational attainment, the average teen in America, more so than in any other country in the world, believes they are going to earn a lot more money than is realistic.

Given this information and having participated in the Grad Nation Summit, I believe the greatest thing about America is our optimism and the worst is our inability to capitalize on opportunities like those of our peer countries. Optimism itself is not bad. However, optimism without an enduring work ethic is a disastrous combination, one that awaits failure. Throughout three days, many leaders posed questions centered on the importance of building a better educational system in America. Grad Nation serves to accomplish two goals, “90 percent graduation rate nationwide by 2020, with no school graduating less than 80 percent of its students” and to “regain America’s standing as first in the world in college completion.” Nevertheless, many leaders failed to ask questions on exactly how do we accomplish this. Although many suggestions were given, very little concern was centered on the fact that perhaps at the heart of America’s problem is not just lack of opportunity, but also a lack of a work ethic at the things that matter.
Perhaps the real problem is our complacency with a subpar educational system currently in place in America. We do not have a solid grasp on the right type of reforms. According to one student leader Johnae Strong, “People might not exactly be complacent, but we are not organized.” After speaking to many student leaders, both at the conference, and in the local Chicago community, I was left wondering, “What is currently being done to address this problem?” According to Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, “President Barack Obama’s administration is promoting national curriculum standards and a revamping of teacher pay that stresses performance rather than credentials and seniority.” According to Secretary Arne Duncan, “the brutal fact here is there are many countries that are far ahead of us and improving more rapidly than we are,” according to Duncan. “This should be a massive wake-up call to the entire country.”

What can we learn from China? According to Bloomberg, “China’s success in Shanghai results from the government’s abandonment of a system of ‘key schools’ for elites and the institution of ‘a more inclusive system in which all students are expected to perform at high levels,’ according the OECD in a recently released report (OECD stands for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The OECD operates as an international organization dedicated to helping “governments tackle the economic, social and governance challenges of a globalised economy.” In addition, China’s success has also depended on raising the standards placed on teachers and the reduction in rote memorization influenced learning. In lieu, China has given their local authorities and students more choices within their curriculum (Bloomberg).
According to Mohit Jain, Founder, and CEO of Omahacares.org and a student leader selected, on a full scholarship, to attend the Grad Nation Summit in D.C., “I agree that the summit lacked an emphasis on how other countries approach their system of education. That being said, the discrepancies between the systems of education make me wonder if those models would be relevant in the modern day United States culture.”
With an eye towards the future, perhaps the solutions to our problems will not be answered solely based on the judgments of top American academics, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, but those from around the world as well. As our society becomes more global and as other countries continue to run laps around our educational system in terms of successful policies being implemented and producing great results, it may not be a bad thing to invite those in leadership roles over successful educational systems overseas. Henna Virkkunen, minister of Finland’s educational system, and Heng Swee Keat, minister of Singapore’s educational system, are both head of countries currently ranked #1 in educational rankings across the board, and perhaps should be invited to the next summit or conference dealing with how to better America’s educational system.