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Global Competence: An Avenue to the World

Asia Society's executive director for Education Jessica Kehayes guest blogs today on the supply and demand for a world-class education.

By Jessica Kehayes

Avenues: The World School opened its doors September 2012 in Manhattan with the goal of creating a global network of schools where students will receive a "world course," gain fluency in a second (or third) language, and achieve academic excellence. I don't know enough about its curriculum and pedagogical practices to comment on the strength of the model, but the vision sounds pretty great. Who wouldn't want that for their kids?

Apparently a lot of people agreed. The school had over 2,700 students apply for 700 slots. A recent Education Week article on the school described the months leading up to the opening as filled with information sessions that had "standing-room-only crowds" and a senior team that "just barely kept pace with demand." This is for a brand-new for-profit school costing almost $40,000 per year with no track record, a controversial business model in a city with a considerable number of high-performing private, independent schools. These are numbers that one person in the article is quoted as saying are "dumbfounding."

So what does it say that presumably educated parents of means lined up to pay $40,000 for a new school to receive an education that explicitly states it will provide a global view, second language learning, and study abroad as its core tenants? People pay for what they value, or what they can't receive for free elsewhere. Perhaps this gives a view on what our broader education system should be developing: what's needed for the future and what parents think is going to help their kids be successful.

It's not just about any high-quality private school—of which there are a lot in New York City, many of which have far more proven track records. This is about a particular sort of education. The sheer existence of this school and the interest in it demonstrates a need for high-quality global education that connects kids to the real world and the rest of the world.

The real question is should that be limited to those who can pay $40,000 per year in a major urban center, or who have parents who advocate for it? What is the responsibility of the entire system to be integrating far more about the world into student learning so that this is not something only taught to an elite group?

The demand for global education is not new—practically every immersion school that opens in the United States is immediately oversubscribed. And while Avenues is too new to be proven, the benefits of a global education and thoughtful world language learning are also documented. Asia Society works in partnership with large urban school districts in seven states to bring global competence to K-12 schools, resulting in higher graduation rates, better performance on state tests, and students engaged in learning. World language learning has been shown to support academic achievement, cognitive abilities, and understanding of other cultures. And although the use of rankings can be endlessly debated, four of the U.S. News and World Report top 10 public high schools of 2012 are "international" schools or have an emphasis on cultural awareness and language proficiency by graduation. There's demand and evidence that it works—what's missing is sufficient supply.

Without supply, people with choice will pay for what is deemed critical—leaving out the vast majority of the population. In the United States, people demonstrate what they want locally for their kids with their enrollment patterns, not in how they vote for candidates on education policy. Follow the money of those who have true choice and we see what is needed: a global education for a global innovation age.

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