International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Countries

Poverty Among U.S. School Children

moneyhouseFor the first time in history, a majority of students attending U.S. public schools come from low-income families, according to a report by the Southern Education Foundation based on the latest data collected from the states by the National Center for Education Statistics.  The report shows that in 2013, 51 percent of the students in the nation’s public schools were from low-income households (defined as eligible for reduced-price lunches because their household income is no more than 185 percent of the poverty threshold).  States with high student-poverty rates tend to spend less per student. Of the 27 states with the highest percentages of student poverty, all but five spent less than the U.S. average of $10,938 per student.  Read more from the Washington Post or from Education Week.

The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) released How Money Makes a Difference: The Effects of School Finance Reforms on Outcomes for Low Income Students, which studies the effects of school finance reforms on student outcomes in the United States by linking spending and spending reform data to data on more than 15,000 children born between 1955 and 1985 from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The results reveal that increases in per-pupil spending led to significant increases in the likelihood of high school graduation and better educational attainment for poor children, and thereby narrowed adult socioeconomic attainment differences between those raised in poor and affluent families.

New Research

In Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, Pearson’s Sir Michael Barber and Peter Hill argue that innovations in technology will lead to much higher quality assessments, which will be needed to improve the performance of education systems worldwide.  The authors provide recommendations for policymakers looking to create the infrastructure to implement such assessments and develop the capacity of teachers to use them effectively.

The OECD’s Focus on Inequality and Growth 2014 shows that global income inequality is at its highest level in 30 years. And a country’s level of inequality is linked to the changes in its GDP: rising inequalities contributed to a 9-point decline in GDP in Finland, Norway, and the U.K., and a 7-point decline in the U.S.  At the same time, more economic equality contributed to rising GDP in Spain and France..

Improving Teacher Quality

AustraliaKidsTeacherTeaching Around the World: What Can TALIS Tell Us?, written by CIEB Advisory Board member Linda Darling-Hammond and Dion Burns, looks at the data in the Teaching and Learning International Survey of 2013 (TALIS) to provide important insights into the policies that can support and strengthen teaching and lead to high-quality learning for students.  These policies include recognizing teachers’ professionalism and involving teachers in decision-making; ensuring adequate and equitable resources to schools; and establishing incentives to ensure an adequate supply of teachers for all fields and communities, including special education teachers and teachers in schools serving disadvantaged students.

A report by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, due to be released next month by Education Minister Christopher Pyne, is expected to recommend that prospective primary school teachers specialize in a subject area during their training.  The reform is aimed at raising the scores of Australian school children on math and science.  Australia’s performance on the 2012 PISA exams was disappointing, falling from 15th to 19th in math and from 10th to 16th in science.  For more, see News.Com.Au.

Expanding Early Childhood Education

China and Canada are working to improve the provision of early childhood education.  The Chinese government announced that it is aiming to offer preschool education to 75 percent of its young children by 2016.  This goal is about 7.5 percent higher than the current coverage of children.  The new goal is part of a three-year plan for preschool education jointly released by the education and finance ministries and the National Development and Reform Commission.  For more, see The Shanghai Daily.

The Early Childhood Education Report 2014, released by the University of Toronto, notes that between the one-year parental leave for qualifying parents and the start of kindergarten, usually at age 5, there is no universal policy designed to support young children.  See more in the Toronto Star.  And in Alberta, the focus is on improving outcomes for young children.  The Early Childhood Mapping Project reports that more than half of Alberta’s young children lag in at least one area of development.  The project looked at physical, intellectual, language, social and emotional development.  The team’s report, which has not yet been officially released, says that only 46.5 percent of Alberta children meet milestones in all five areas of early childhood development by the time they are in kindergarten.  For more, see The Edmonton Journal.

Financing Higher Education

StudentLoadOECDFinland, Taiwan and the UK address challenges in financing higher education.  After announcing a plan to charge roughly 4,000 euros (USD $4,951) in university tuition to students coming to Finland from outside Europe, the Finnish government faced waves of criticism from students, teachers, policymakers and activists who claimed the plan was at odds with Finland’s commitment to educational equity.  In the wake of these criticisms, officials could not agree on the details of implementation, and consequently, they have elected not to proceed with the policy.  Read more at GlobalPost.

In Taiwan, the Ministry of Education announced that declining birthrates will lead to a 35 percent drop in enrollments in universities and graduate institutes over the next decade.  The estimated USD $947 million loss of tuition revenues in 2023 will result in fewer university faculty; however, the Ministry plans to take advantage of the decreases to reduce teacher-student ratios in universities.  Read more at Focus Taiwan.

Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, argues in an OECD Education Today blog that the United Kingdom offers a sustainable model for university finance.  Students in the UK can take advantage of income-contingent loans with the repayments corresponding to a proportion of their earnings.  Graduates who are low-income earners are required to make only low or no repayments.  This innovative loan system is complemented with means-tested grants or tuition waivers for vulnerable groups to encourage low-income students to undertake higher education.

Reflecting on Reforms

The Japan Times reviewed reforms and challenges that have affected the Japanese education system in 2014.  Prime Minister Abe made education a priority, setting goals to increase Japan’s global competitiveness in education.  The Ministry of Education’s recommendation to meet those goals include elevating the importance of English listening and speaking across the grades; moving the starting grade for learning English from grade five to grade three; and expanding the International Baccalaureate program.  Japan continues to deal with a dropping birth rate, which has led to closing and combining schools, as well as handling the mass retirement of the baby-boomer generation, which is leading to a younger and less experienced teaching force.

In a guest blog for Education Week, Asia Society Senior Advisor and CIEB Board Member Vivien Stewart shares some of the lessons learned from Toronto’s reform experience during a visit by the Global Cities Education Network.  The lessons include how Toronto was able to use teacher collaboration and career ladders to not only improve math and literacy rates among students but to help keep teachers in the profession.  As a result, Toronto now retains 99 percent of its new teachers.

News from Estonia

At an international conference hosted in Estonia in November 2014, Imbi Henno of the Estonian Ministry of Education discussed Estonian students’ success on the most recent PISA exam.  He explains: “The strong points of the Estonian system are equal opportunities, free education (including higher education), professional teachers, very motivated students and the fact that the schools enjoy great autonomy”.  Henno also pointed at areas where Estonia has room for improvement, including putting more effort into enhancing creativity and analytic, innovative and critical thinking.  Read more at ERR.  In more news from Estonia, The Estonian parliament’s Finance Committee decided this month, at the request of the Ministry of Education and Science, to increase the minimum monthly wage of full-time teachers to 900 euros (USD $1,114) per month.  This will raise the minimum wage of teachers next year by a total of 12.5 percent.  Read more at The Baltic Course.

Expanding and Upgrading VET

ScotlandVETThe Scottish Government unveiled a new youth employment strategy that aims to: increase the uptake of work-related learning and qualifications in the senior high school; provide earlier career guidance; set new standards for work experience; create a new pre-apprenticeship pilot focused on the most needy students; and require partnerships between secondary schools and employers to support all of these activities.  The government also announced an additional £6.5 million (USD $7.35 million) to improve vocational education.

Singapore is continuing to invest in its vocational education and training system.  The Ministry of Education just launched a centralized portal, www.GetCET.sg that offers easy access to almost 250 continuing education and training (CET) courses offered by publicly funded universities, polytechnics, and the Institute of Technical Education.  The CET courses lead to diploma and degree qualifications covering a wide range of industries, disciplines, and skill levels.  Some of the features include a “Find Me a Course” option, which allows users to compare course choices and obtain information on subsidies, incentives and financial assistance.  The launch of the new directory supports one of Singapore’s SkillsFuture Council’s key goals, which is to foster a culture of lifelong learning.  The portal is designed to help individuals make informed choices about education, training and careers so they can continually upgrade their skills.  Read more at Channel News Asia