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As an (anonymous) Indiana superintendent points out on his (or her) blog, sometimes it pays to look beyond our borders to get a sense for what's wrong -- and what's right -- about American education. Try Singapore, where a recent Newsweek article points out a key contrast:

I talked to Tharman Shanmugaratnam to understand it better. He's the minister of Education of Singapore, the country that is No. 1 in the global science and math rankings for schoolchildren. I asked the minister how to explain the fact that even though Singapore's students do so brilliantly on these tests, when you look at these same students 10 or 20 years later, few of them are worldbeaters anymore. Singapore has few truly top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives or academics. American kids, by contrast, test much worse in the fourth and eighth grades but seem to do better later in life and in the real world. Why? "We both have meritocracies," Shanmugaratnam said. "Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy."

The superintendent points out that as we try to catch up with countries like Signapore, "we better not throw the baby out with the bath water ... The problem I see is that as teachers hunker down and overemphasize specific test results, the loss of creativity and curiosity is often an unintended consequence."

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Good point. However, with great and interesting subject matter and teaching, students would learn and discuss such topics as money management ("math and money"), including savings versus investments; effective communications, including listening, reading, REASONING, speaking and writing; current events and trends; requirements for effective team work and problem solving; importance of reliability and punctuality; keys to innovation; pre-engineering and the sciences; starting your own business; etc.

All of that would provide an incentive for schools to involve qualified retired or active members of other professions in the teacher and curriculum development and enrichment process, and the students would enjoy it and learn from it. I speak with some experience, since we have dabbled in it.

John Shacter; [email protected]

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  • John Shacter, consultant, teacher, Kingston, TN: Good point. However, with great and interesting subject matter and read more




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