My colleagues Heather Singmaster, Jessica Kehayes, and I just returned from a multi-country trip to have conversations around international best practice and common issues of concern in education.
What we are finding is countries recognize that education will be key to economic growth in a global knowledge and innovation-based economy. Another way to say it is that low educational performance exacts measurable economic costs. Rising economies throughout Asia are focusing on increasing graduation rates, raising achievement, making educational systems more equitable, and rethinking the skills needed for the 21st century.
This focus has led to dramatic gains in student achievement. In OECD rankings, the United States is now ranked at 26th (the average across the three PISA subject areas) in 2009. Eight of the top 10 high-achieving nations are in Asia. Countries aren’t just gaining on us in international comparisons, but they are graduating more high school students as well. By comparison, American schools have dropped from first to tenth in the world in the proportion of young adults with a high school degree or equivalent in 2006.
A critical element of high-performing school systems is that they not only benchmark the practices of other countries, but they systematically adapt and implement these practices within their own cultural and political contexts.
Mr. Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, in Singapore said it best:
“Education must suit our unique context. We must always be humble and we must always learn from the best in the world. But we must not simply copy what works elsewhere, or do what is fashionable, without bearing in mind our unique culture, context and circumstances, and what we have achieved. We should have the courage and confidence to do what we think is right, and evolve our system to what is best for us.”
These thought are at the forefront of our thinking as we plan the Partnership for Global Learning annual conference. American schools have a long tradition and great context for innovation and student achievement. We will learn how other nations are preparing for the global knowledge economy, but also celebrate our own successes.