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Are We on the Wrong Path?

By Jal Mehta

Marc Tucker has penned what I see as one of the most important reports on how to improve American education in years. (Full disclosure, I contributed a chapter to the book on which the report is based.) I know, I know, there is a report a week in the education space, but what makes this one distinctive is that it takes the accumulating evidence on how high performing countries achieve what they do, and offers a specific set of recommendations about what it would take to move the American education system in that direction.

I can't do justice to the recommendations in a blog post--you need to read the whole thing. It hits a number of the highlights of this series, most notably the need to make teaching more selective, higher paid, and with much more intensive training and preparation. It takes a hard line on what this would mean in terms of state certification of new teachers, arguing that we need to, "Raise the criteria for teacher licensure to internationally benchmarked levels and never, under any circumstances, waive the licensure standards in the face of a teacher shortage." It compliments TFA for its selectivity, but argues that it cannot replace the kind of induction system that exists in other countries.

It thinks less of the market approach, and it's most newsworthy parts might be the comparison between these leading performers and how it characterizes the American approach:

It turns out that neither the researchers whose work is reported on in this paper nor the analysts of the OECD PISA data have found any evidence that any country that leads the world's education performance league tables has gotten there by implementing any of the major agenda items that dominate the education reform agenda in the United States.
We include in this list the use of market mechanisms such as charter schools and vouchers, the identification and support of education entrepreneurs to disrupt the system, and the use of student performance data on standardized tests to identify teachers and principals who are then rewarded on that basis for the value they add to a student's education or who are punished because they fail to do so.

And, not surprisingly, this led to a reaction from Arne Duncan at the release of the report, who argued that a number of the elements of the RTTT agenda were in line with the international recommendations. You can read Duncan's comments here, or watch the whole event here.

I don't agree with everything Marc says, and actually think some of the charter networks are doing exactly the same things that the leading international performers are. But in the breadth of not only its critique, but also the vision of how we might generate a substantially better system, the report is well worth considering.

Jal Mehta is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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