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How to Build a World Class Education System in the United States

By Kait Krolik

Compared to 33 other countries, the United States fell dead last in a “survey of worker numeracy, literacy and problem solving.” What can we do to improve our system and ensure our children receive the best possible education?

How to Build a ‘World Class’ Education System in the United States Since 2014, the National Council of State Legislatures has researched education systems in the top 10 performing countries or providences across the world. This list includes Alberta, Ontario, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taiwan. With the results of their research, the NCSL has been traveling to state legislatures offering to help them improve each state based on what they learned.

Where Do We Fall?

Our rankings have fallen dramatically over the past 10 years as other countries are taking bigger strides for progress. Internally, we have seen little to no progress according to the national report card conducted by the NAEP. For example, between 1973 and 2012, the US math scores for 17-year-olds have only risen 2 points.

Can You Even Compare?

Some say that the United States cannot accurately compare to other countries. They say we have more diversity and chose to educate everyone instead of just the elite “like other countries do.”

However, Europe and Asia have both experienced similar levels of immigration recently (see table). In addition, America’s overall graduation rate falls below that of most high performing countries and the OECD average. The United States is comparable to other high performing countries, and that we don’t perform as highly means we have a different problem.

What Can We Do?

The research sites four common elements that all high performing countries support. These are all areas in which the United States has room for growth.

  1. Children have an expectation to learn in school, struggling students are met with extra help and opportunity, and greatness is expected from all students regardless of background.
    • The expectation for children to be held to high standards is partnered with high quality teachers and the resources to help any student get to where they need to be. Learning and education in these countries are often not simply about math/science/reading, rather, education is holistic and ranges from sports to creative arts. This education system is to help the entire student grow.
  2. To create a world-class education system, you need a fleet of world-class teachers and instruction. Every student needs access to “highly-effective teachers and is expected to succeed.”
  3. In a system like this, teachers are highly trained professionals. The universities they get into are highly selective, their education standards are clearly spelled out, and they are treated as experts in their field. Often, they are also expected to continue to produce research and work on teams to address the problems in their schools.
  4. Applied, career technical education is also world class, intellectual, and rigorous. This is provided to students who do not want to pursue an academic route.
    • Students who are more interested in knowing how moving parts work or focusing on design are not subjected to an education in which they derive no value. Rather, they can grow in a robust career program.

Everything has a purpose and is connected to the bigger picture. The entire education system was “clearly planned and carefully designed as a comprehensive system.”

In these countries, the education system was dismantled piece by piece and restructured so that every piece, old or new, has a purpose and fits with the flow. These turn into the standards rigorously studied and adapted by teachers and universities.

Where Will We Get the Money?

One of the biggest questions often fielded after this presentation concerns money. We already spend, on average, $10,000 per pupil in the United States. How can we be so low when we are putting so much money into our system? How is it other countries highly effective education systems aren’t outspending us?

Our education bureaucracy is too large. We spend our money on management and bureaucratic processes with limited resources making it down to the teacher and the student. Other systems are structured in a way that puts teachers and their students at the forefront. Teachers are highly paid, like those with the same education credentials and specialized expertise. Schools are run by head teachers instead of administrators and the system is created in a way that supports itself in an effective, efficient way.

Education systems in other countries have been modernized and adapted to the needs of our globalized society. To be the best in the world, you need to be in front of modern industries and nourish the entire child. Students’ education needs to be multifaceted and relevant. To reach this goal, the United States needs to begin to turn towards highly preforming education structures in the world and begin to adapt our system.