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Public Attitudes Toward Internationally Benchmarked Education Practices

My colleague Heather Singmaster looks at the newly released Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

By Heather Singmaster

Today, Phi Delta Kappa releases their 44th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. While there were no questions specifically addressing the global competence of our students, it shows support by the American public for education reform strategies used by the highest-performing countries in the world.

Fifty-three percent of respondents believe Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will help make education in the United States more competiĀ­tive globally. This is positive to see given a recent poll showing that less than half of the public had a favorable impression of the CCSS. The high-performing countries on international exams such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have common standards that are rigorous, focused, and coherent. When writing the CCSS, the authors looked to these countries for best practices. Indeed, William Schmidt, a professor at Michigan State University, did a comparative analysis of the Math Common Core State Standards, finding that they resemble those of high-performing (A+) countries and have more rigor, focus, and coherence than the standards they replace. In fact, he found a 90% overlap between the CCSS and the standards of the highest-performing countries. While this is encouraging research and shows how far we have come, in the top-performing countries, standards are set across the whole curriculum, not just in certain subjects. This leaves the United States at risk of further narrowing the curriculum, while in other countries, there is a real effort to broaden the curriculum, including an enhanced focus on the arts, health, physical education, and languages.

The survey also asks whether high school graduates are ready for the workforce—only one in five surveyed think that they are. This supports a need to take a good look at the skills being taught in our schools and ensure they are the ones that business is calling for in this knowledge economy.

One additional internationally benchmarked practice that Americans support is more rigorous entrance requirements for college-based teacher preparation programs. Most agree teacher pre-service programs should be as competitive as engineering, business, pre-law, and pre-medicine. This is the case in both Finland and Singapore, two top-performing countries that have worked hard to reform their teacher preparation systems and ensure teaching is one of the most respected career choices one can pursue. The recent International Summit on the Teaching Profession, hosted by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, looked closely at strategies to improve teacher preparation.

Rigorous common standards, 21st century skills, and teacher quality are strategies being piloted in this country, although not uniformly. The PDK/Gallup Poll results reveal strong public will for these wide-scale reforms—and that is good news because what the public wants is the most important driver in translating ideas into reality.

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