What Can U.S. Schools Learn From Other Nations?

What Can U.S. Schools Learn From Other Nations?

At least two factors—the evolution of the global economy and ongoing concerns about the quality of American education—are fueling interest in how other nations approach teaching and learning.

American reactions to the recent release of PISA data from 2012 have ranged from grave concern about the state of American schools to enthusiasm for lessons that can be learned to dismissal of comparisons, particularly those based on student-assessment data.

Share one or two international practices or policies you, as an educator, think American schools should adopt—whether at the classroom or systems level. Why would you advocate for these changes? How would they affect teachers and students? What evidence exists—or would need to exist—to convince district and state decision-makers that the changes are worthwhile?

Establishing mutual interests and setting mutual goals with students from different schools, countries, and cultures takes cooperation to a new level—and is eye-opening for students and teachers alike. Using the Internet to overcome distance and financial concerns, students and teachers can connect and integrate various subjects to work on projects like preparing food by using the ingredients chosen into a shopping cart by students in another country, comparing the headlines and articles of newspapers of the same day for mapping topical issues, or discussing the properties of an ideal city.

What we can learn from China has to do with the teachers in this system who go above and beyond, regardless of the physical and political constraints, to make sure their students get everything they can to have a better future. I'm talking about teachers who are the risk-takers and believe anything is possible for their students, even if everything (and everyone) says it's not. I'm not advocating for reckless behavior or a mutiny against the system—I am speaking up for the educators who boldly go against societal norms to do what they can for students most in need.

We need to reduce the quantity of standardized tests and allow teachers to design and grade more classroom-based assessments, especially ones that measure the 21st-century skills that PISA exam items demand.

Teaching is burdensome. Some of its greatest challenges exist beyond the classroom walls. Poverty. Broken families. Domestic violence. The list continues. Teachers who seek to care for their students need to be cared for, too. Without sufficient support, teachers burn out. Some even leave the profession altogether. As an American teacher in a Finnish public school, I'm witnessing and experiencing meaningful professional support. A close look at my current teaching schedule reveals two important sources of preventive care.

On Italy's capstone state exam for high school students, there are no bubbles, no A-B-C-Ds to choose from. Italian students, at the end of their high school education, must demonstrate independence, strong content knowledge both within and across content areas, and be able to respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.

During my travels in China and other countries in Asia, school groups doing outdoor calisthenics were a regular sight. Each morning, hundreds of children stood in rows, reaching their arms to the sky, touching their toes, and jumping up and down. The sight always made me happy. When I took a class in Thailand, myself, we started each day with flowing movement and stretching, and it made a huge difference in my well-being. American schools need more of this movement!

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