International Reads: News from the Top-Performing Countries

International Experts On Teacher Quality

finnishlessonsDuring his recent benchmarking visit to Estonia, NCEE President Marc Tucker praised the commitment and expertise of current Estonian teachers while warning that an aging teaching force coupled with low salaries and a low level of public regard for teachers is leading fewer Estonian students to choose teaching as a profession, especially as students have more options in a vibrant and growing economy than they did previously. And in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog, Finnish education expert and CIEB Advisory Board member Pasi Sahlberg looks at how Finland rigorously selects and prepares its teachers, and explains that in Finland teaching is conceived of as a collaborative, long-term profession, resulting in typical tenures of 40 years.

Funding and Completion Rates in Tertiary Education

In the World Bank’s Education for Global Development blog, Harry Patrinos, Manager at the World Bank’s education sector argues that student loan options that rely entirely on students’ future earnings are the only equitable and sustainable way to finance tertiary education around the world. To date, the U.S., the U.K., South Korea, and New Zealand have adopted some form of this policy and Australia has had great success with its widespread adoption.

TheNewForgottenHalfIn the U.S. a new report from the William T. Grant Foundation, The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them, finds that 46 percent of young people who enroll in community colleges fail to complete their studies and attain a degree. The report outlines a research agenda to help these youth stay in college and complete their degrees.

Similarly, in Estonia, a study conducted by the University of Tartu’s Institute of Educational Sciences shows that while demand for IT skills in Estonia is very high, roughly 32 percent of Estonian students who enroll in a computer science course of study leave or drop out within a year of commencing their studies. The report recommends that universities collaborate with industry to provide better internships for IT students and that educators raise awareness of the opportunities in the IT sector and the benefits of completing an IT degree.

Curriculum and Assessment Reforms

The Finnish National Board of Education announced in early February that it has confirmed a new core curriculum for basic education. The new curriculum places renewed emphasis on collaboration, creativity, and “fostering a joy of learning.” It also reduces content specifications for each subject, while re-emphasizing individualized learning, different learning methods, and formative assessment.

HKsecondarystudentsIn Hong Kong, recent changes to the secondary school syllabus are under fire for “dumbing down” the curriculum. The reforms were aimed at helping all students succeed in secondary school, and included deemphasizing the study of classical Chinese, lowering the academic requirements of the compulsory math courses and requiring students to take fewer courses overall. Regina IP Lau Suk-yee, a legislator and chair of the New People’s Party in Hong Kong, claims that as a result fewer students are prepared to succeed in the Chinese language course exam or for STEM programs in college.

In Singapore, efforts to improve the country’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) system continue. The Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Singapore’s premiere post-secondary technical institution, released a new five-year roadmap for 2015 to 2019 that lays out a plan for shifting away from a vocational-based learning approach to a more career-based framework that will allow students to learn broader-based, transferable skills across a cluster of occupations, rather than focusing on a single vocation.

And for the first time, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) will annually publish up to three years of past Primary School Leaving Exams (PSLEs) in full. In the past, the SEAB released selected past exam questions, categorized by topic, to help students practice. But parents signaled that it would be helpful to have a better sense of the full scope of the PSLE, which helps to determine where students go for lower secondary school.

Improving U.S. Education

PellReportA new study from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth suggests that boosting the United States’ PISA performance to the average of OECD member nations would add 1.7 percent to the nation’s GDP – or $900 billion USD – over the next 35 years. And a study from the Pell Institute found that while overall enrollment in postsecondary education in the U.S. has increased steadily since 1970 (with a momentary decline during the Great Recession), the gap in attainment between the top and bottom quartiles of income has declined only slightly in the same period. Eighty-one percent of students from families that are top-quartile earners receive a college degree; only 45 percent of students from the bottom quartile do. To close this gap the report recommends increasing work-based learning opportunities, improving loan forgiveness and providing incentives to institutions that serve higher concentrations of low-income students.

Education Spending in the U.S. and China

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a new First Look report introducing data for national and state-level public elementary and secondary revenues and expenditures for fiscal year 2012. The latest data show a 3.5 percent decrease in total revenues for fiscal year 2012 compared to fiscal year 2011. Expenditures for public elementary and secondary education across the nation also decreased, down 2.9 percent from fiscal year 2011. The average per pupil expenditure in the U.S. was $10,667, with Utah spending the least ($6,441 per pupil) and the District of Columbia spending the most ($19,847 per pupil).

Chinese StudentChina’s Ministry of Education announced that it would continue efforts to address disparities between rural and urban students, building on 2014’s 50 billion yuan ($8.15 billion USD) school facilities improvement push. According to Ministry of Education officials, subsidies for rural teachers have also increased and more than 64,000 digital devices were distributed to bolster classroom technology. These investments along with substantial investments in teacher training are aimed at promoting educational equity and reducing the dropout rate.

Latest from the OECD

In a guest post on BBC.com, the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher debunks seven “myths” about successful education systems. According to his analysis of PISA results, it is not true that: disadvantaged pupils always do poorly; immigrants achieve lower results; greater spending automatically results in better results; class size is related to learning outcomes; learning quality and equity are incompatible; more subjects (such as financial literacy) are necessarily better for imparting 21st century skills; and, success is a function of luck and talent rather than hard work.

The World Bank’s Marguerite Clarke examines the latest announcements about the OECD’s PISA for Development Initiative, and is hopeful about its potential. PISA for Development will try different test administration practices and supplement existing PISA test items with those from regional assessments in developing countries that have previously lacked the capacity or motivation to join PISA. Clarke believes this is a good step toward equitably measuring a sample that is representative of the skills and literacy levels of students in the developing world.

UniversityGradsOn the OECD’s Education Today blog, Dirk Van Damme, head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division of the Directorate for Education and Skills, analyzes data on inter-generational education mobility from the latest Education Indicators in Focus brief. The data show that 39 percent of adults have attained a higher level of education than their parents, but education mobility—the rates at which children attain higher levels of education than their parents—is declining slightly among younger adults. On average, students in OECD countries whose parents went to college are 4.5 times more likely to attend college themselves than those whose parents did not.