International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Education Systems

Each week, the CIEB staff survey the education news from the world’s top performing systems.  We post a round-up of the most important topics every Friday morning on the CIEB homepage.  Here are the issues that mattered most in global education news this past month:

ArtforartssakecoverEducation Reports of Note
Several significant education reports were released last month including here in the United States, the highly debated Teacher Prep Review from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  The report evaluated over 1,100 colleges and universities that prepare elementary and secondary teachers and categorized the vast majority of programs as “mediocre”.  In the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, Linda Darling-Hammond (chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University) argues that the ratings are nonsense.  She writes, “It is clear as reports come in from programs that NCTQ staff made serious mistakes in its reviews of nearly every institution.  Because they refused to check the data – or even share it – with institutions ahead of time, they published badly flawed information without the fundamental concerns for accuracy that any serious research enterprise would insist upon.”  However an editorial in the Washington Post praised the Council for persevering despite the unwillingness of many higher education institutes to cooperate.  They wrote, “Weakness in how America prepares its teachers has long been one of the worst-kept secrets in education. Programs and standards vary wildly, prospective students have no way to compare schools and few professionals have been willing to challenge the entrenched interests. Those who believe — as we do — that teachers should be viewed and treated as professionals should welcome a study that might help them get the training demanded by the hard jobs they do.”

From the OECNCES TAPD, in addition to their annual Education at a Glance (which is covered in detail in this month’s Statistic of the Month), comes a new report exploring the impact of arts education.  Arts education has long been argued to enhance performance in academic subjects such as mathematics, science, reading and writing, and to strengthen students’ academic motivation, self-confidence, and ability to communicate and cooperate effectively.  A new study from OECD, Art for Art’s Sake?, explores the current empirical knowledge about the link between cognitive, creative, motivational and social skills and arts education, including the visual arts, theatre, dance, and music education both within school curriculum and outside of it (e.g. private dance or music lessons).  The report findings suggest a positive correlation between arts education and IQ, academic performance, foreign-language acquisition, verbal skills, and geometrical reasoning.  See the full report at OECD.com.

And according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, today’s 9- and 13-year-old U.S. students scored higher in reading and mathematics than their counterparts did 40 years ago.  However, 17-year-olds did not show similar gains.  The report, The Nation’s Report Card: Trends in Academic Progress 2012, provides a long-term trend assessment designed to track changes in the achievement of students ages 9, 13 and 17 since the 1970s.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend assessment is administered every four years and measures basic reading and mathematics skills to gauge how the performance of U.S. students has changed over time.  Results in 2012 from more than 50,000 public- and private-school students across the country are compared with assessments since the 1970s and offer an extended view of changes in achievement over the years.

Education and the Labor Market
Across the world, many countries are struggling to determine what kind of education will best drive economic growth.  Recently, CEDEFOP brought together policymakers from the European Union, Business Europe, the ETUC, UNESCO, Germany, Greece and Ireland to discuss the mismatch between skills people have and those the labor market requires.  In her keynote speech, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Androulla Vassiliou, said that the risk of a lost generation is “a real threat” but added that, “at EU-level we are working with the Member States to put Europe back on the road to jobs and growth.”   Vassiliou also noted that “it will be only by pooling the efforts of EU Member States, social partners, business, other relevant actors and the European Commission that we will be able to develop high-quality apprenticeships across Europe.”  The main themes of the conference include how vocational education and training can be improved with information on labor market needs; how various forms of apprenticeship can address youth unemployment; and how peer learning and alliances can help develop work-based learning.  Thomas Rachel, German Parliamentary Secretary of State for Federal Ministry of Education and Research, told the conference that “the dual system is the backbone of Germany’s economic success” and that his country wants to support its European partners “in their reform process.”  Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris highlighted the importance of vocational education and training, especially in countries like Greece, pointing out that “the reform should have started before the crisis.”

The Associated Press recently examined the issue of the mismatch between the skills students have when they leave schooling and the skills employers demand from the perspective of how countries around the world are reshaping their higher education offerings in the wake of the Great Recession.  NCEE President Marc Tucker was quoted in the story as saying, “There is strong argument for getting specific training in the field you want to enter.  But if your thinking stops there, you are going to be outcompeted in another five or six or 10 years by somebody who did that and also got a liberal education.”

The debate and discussion comes at a critical time as a higher education degree no longer guarantees a place in the job market.  A recent report from Chinese education consulting firm MyCOS finds that the 2013 employment rates for Chinese college graduates are far lower than last year.  The study found that by early April 2013, only one out of three graduates with bachelors degrees had landed jobs compared to nearly 50 percent of graduates in April 2012.  For master’s degree graduates, the prospects are even gloomier with only one out of four graduates being recruited by early April 2013.  Vocational school graduates however are having less trouble moving into the labor market.  Look at the full story from China Daily here.

In Shanghai, parents are weighing the value of sending their students to study abroad for college.  According to The Global Times, a majority of parents believe that it will benefit their children in the job market, even though the costs of tuition and living expenses may reach 1 million yuan (USD$163,111).  But education experts and human resource specialists argue that students that return from studying overseas have lost their competitive advantage in the domestic job market.  The article points to newly released figures from the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission that show that 97 percent of graduates from the city’s vocational schools have successfully found employment after graduation which suggests that overseas education is not necessary to secure employment.

College Entrance Exams
Chinese high school seniors hoping to get into university must take the GaoKao, or college entrance examination but after 1,500 people were arrested last year in a cheating scandal, this year tighter regulations are in place to prevent students from bringing earphones, wireless signal receivers, modified pens, watches, glasses and even leather belts into the testing centers.  The new rules will prohibit students from bringing anything into the examination room that a metal detector senses.  Cheating aside, recent critiques of the Chinese college entrance process point out that it is fundamentally unfair as it is heavily weighted toward urban students.  This inequality reinforces the sharp divide between students coming from prestigious and well-funded urban schools and those coming from non-government-funded rural schools where a lack of funding leads to fewer educational resources and difficulty in recruiting quality teachers.  Read more at Global Times.

In Japan, the education ministry has announced plans to replace its college entrance exam with a new format.  Currently, all Japanese high school students who want to attend university must take an exam known as the National Center Test in addition to taking another round of tests at the university of their choice.  Under the recently announced plan, a new achievement test will be offered a few times a year and students will be allowed to pick their best scores when applying for university admissions, according to the Japan Times.  The plan is to launch this new system in five years at the earliest, according to sources interviewed.  In addition, the ministry plans to ask higher education institutes to add interviews and essays to the second round of tests.

Funding
Julia GillardThe Australian Parliament has passed a landmark National Plan for School Improvement that reforms how Australia funds primary and secondary schools.  Known as the Gonski reform, for the 2012 review of education funding in the country, the bill creates, for the first time, a national education funding strategy for primary and secondary schools.  The plan sets a per pupil base funding amount and adds additional funds for students with disadvantages such as disabilities or low socio-economic status.  Education authorities are required to develop school improvement plans, boost professional development and the performance of teachers and principals, and implement the national curriculum.  At this point, four jurisdictions, New South Wales, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, have signed agreements with the federal government to participate in this funding plan.  The agreements require the jurisdictions to commit to increasing education funding by 3 percent each year for the next six years.  In turn, the federal government will increase funding by 4.7 percent, with the requirement that the funds are distributed according to the new needs-based formula.  Some of the new federal funding is to be offset by cuts in higher education funding.  The cut-off date for jurisdictions to sign on to the funding plan was pushed back to mid-July from June 30, after Prime Minister Julia Gillard, lost a leadership vote in Parliament and was replaced by Paul Rudd.  The remaining jurisdictions, Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland, are still negotiating with the federal government but it is not clear that they will sign on soon.

Hong Kong KidsMeanwhile in Hong Kong, Education Secretary Eddie Ng is battling criticism that equity in school finance is declining.  Parents are concerned that an increase in schools joining the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) is reducing education choices for poorer students.  DSS provides government subsidies to private primary and secondary schools and allows those schools to set their own curriculum, fees and entrance requirements.  Critics claim the allocation of public funds to private schools, which then charge increasingly higher fees to students, unfairly draws money away from government funded public schools and leaves them at a disadvantage.  Secretary Ng claims that less than 10 percent of schools in Hong Kong have joined the scheme, and that the ministry will closely monitor the policy.  Still, parents from working-class families worry that if schools choose to join DDS they will no longer open their doors to students from poorer families.